Published on 11 Aug 2013 Sections ,

Labour criticises Tesco over cheap migrant workers

Labour sets its sights on Tesco’s employment practices, accusing the supermarket giant of employing cheap workers from eastern Europe, in a speech attacking “unscrupulous employers”.

Shadow Immigration Minister Chris Bryant will highlight Tesco’s employment practices in a speech on Monday.

It is unfair that unscrupulous employers whose only interest seems to be finding labour as cheaply as possible will recruit workers in large numbers in low-wage countries in the EU. Chris Bryant

He will claim the supermarket moved its distribution centre to Kent where a “large percentage” of the staff are from the eastern bloc, the Sunday Telegraph reported.

However, Tesco has denied having a distribution centre in Kent, and said Mr Bryant was “wrong” to make the claims.

‘Unscrupulous employers’

Mr Bryant’s speech will focus on the “negative effects” of migration on the UK labour markets.

“The biggest complaint I have heard, from migrants and settled communities alike, is about the negative effects migration can have on the UK labour market, and I agree,” he is expected to say.

“It is unfair that unscrupulous employers whose only interest seems to be finding labour as cheaply as possible will recruit workers in large numbers in low-wage countries in the EU, bring them to the UK, charge the costs of their travel and their substandard accommodation against their wages and still not even meet the national minimum wage.

“That is unfair. It exploits migrant workers and it makes it impossible for settled workers with mortgages and a family to support at British prices to compete.”

‘Cut in pay’

He will go on to focus on Tesco, which employs more than 300,000 people in the UK.

“Take the case of Tesco, who recently decided to move their distribution centre in Kent,” he plans to say.

“The new centre is larger and employs more people, but the staff at original site, most of them British, were told that they could only move to the new centre if they took a cut in pay. The result? A large percentage of the staff at the new centre are from (the) eastern bloc.”

We work incredibly hard to recruit from the local area, and have just recruited 350 local people to work in our Dagenham site.Tesco

Mr Bryant will also target fashion retailer Next. Extracts from his speech say: “Look at Next Plc, who last year brought 500 Polish workers to work in their South Elmsall warehouse for their summer sale and another 300 this summer.

“They were recruited in Poland and charged £50 to find them accommodation. The advantage to Next? They get to avoid Agency Workers Regulations, which apply after a candidate has been employed for over 12 weeks, so Polish temps end up considerably cheaper than the local workforce, which includes many former Next employees.”

‘Wrong’

A spokesman for Tesco said Mr Bryant was “wrong to accuse Tesco of this.” The company, the spokesman said, had recruited 350 local people to work at its distribution centre in Dagenham, in east London. The Dagenham distribution centre was formerly in Essex.

On the face of it, his allegations seem unlikely. Next

Tesco said it had recruited 350 local people to work in its distribution centre in Dagenham, which is in the east London Borough of Barking and Dagenham and was formerly in Essex, not Kent.

The spokesman said: “We work incredibly hard to recruit from the local area, and have just recruited 350 local people to work in our Dagenham site.”

A spokesman for Next told The Sunday Telegraph: “Without access to the facts, it is difficult to comment on what Mr Bryant is claiming. On the face of it, his allegations seem unlikely.”