Ending EU free movement after Brexit would lead to more worker exploitation, report warns

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Trade unions and Labour MPs have drawn up a plan for Britain to keep EU free movement after Brexit – but with extra protections to stop workers from being exploited.

The policy papers warns that ending free movement and stemming immigration may not have the positive effect on wages and conditions many eurosceptics hope – because it would leave migrant workers more vulnerable to exploitation and thus drive down wages. 

The report suggests a so-called “free movement+” plan that would see open borders could continue, but with extra protections like sector wage bargaining to stop new arrivals being used by employers to undercut existing workers.

The proposal, released days before Labour is set to meet for its annual conference in Brighton, also calls for more inspections for employers and endorsed changes to EU rules on posted workers currently on the table in Brussels.

Once Britain leaves the EU these changes could be introduced using domestic legislation, the policy paper by the Labour Campaign for Free Movement says. The campaign is backed by MPs including Clive Lewis, David Lammy, Tulip Siddiq and Geraint Davies.

“The simple reality is that migrants with fewer rights will be more vulnerable to super-exploitation. Whenever and wherever this happens all workers will suffer,” the report says

Ending free movement would also lead to worker shortages and “could bring about very serious supply-side issues within the labour market potentially risking the viability of whole sectors of the British economy”, it warns.

Clive Lewis, Labour MP for Norwich South, said: “This year’s conference provides an opportunity for the Labour movement to take a clear, principled position on immigration that makes sense and benefits everyone – after decades of retreating.  As this report sets out, we can and must win the fight for free movement – by marrying it with a radical social and economic policy that puts power and agency back into the hands of ordinary people.”

Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the TSSA union, gives a lengthy introduction to the report. In it he argues: “Some [Tories] even consciously think of the Brexit process as a tool to create an underground, black market economy in Britain, in which the penalty for standing up to your boss is deportation.

“The antidote to this agenda is not the restriction of free movement, but an end to workers’ exploitation. We need a properly regulated labour market and a trade union in every workplace. The Tories and bosses seek to divide us. Our job is to create unity on the basis of class, not national origin.”

The chiefs of the BFAWU, United Voices, and UCU unions also back the campaign.

Labour has been vague about what it would propose to replace the current immigration system but said in its manifesto that “free movement will end” when Britain leaves the EU.

A leaked Home Office paper made public at the start of the month suggested the use of time-limited work visas of two years, restrictions on the rights of EU nationals to bring their families over, and income threshold requirements for some EU natinoals hoping to work in the UK. The Government has yet to officially announce its immigration plans or policy, however.