UK companies have a “social duty” to hire young British workers rather than better-qualified immigrants, a government minister says.
Conservative Business Minister Matthew Hancock said firms have a responsibility to ensure that young people in the local communities where they are based are given the chance to get a job.
He said employers should invest in training British staff rather than simply taking the “easy option” of hiring foreign workers for “pure profit”.
“As vacancies rise, and unemployment falls further, it is the duty of companies, especially big business, to take on local young people – not immediately take the easy option of recruiting from abroad,” Mr Hancock told the Daily Mail.
His comments come amid concern from Conservative MPs over an influx of immigrant workers from Romania and Bulgaria when restrictions on their employment status are lifted next year.
The Tories are under pressure from Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party (Ukip), which is arguing for tighter immigration controls.
Mr Farage accused the government of trying to steal votes from his party with a “Big Brother” billboard campaign which tells illegal immigrants to “go home or face arrest”.
He warned that settled ethnic minorities might see the billboards as a declaration of open warfare and alleged government attempts to steal Ukip votes with what he called this “diversionary tactic” to make it seem like MPs were doing something about immigration.
Mr Farage told LBC radio: “Honestly, the truth of it is, the reason they are doing this is they know, the government know, they are in desperate trouble over the immigration issue because the doors are opening on January 1 to the whole of Bulgaria and Romania – 28 million poor people will be able to come if they want to – and so they are trying what I think is a diversionary tactic to show how tough they are but in doing so revealing a slightly unpleasant side.”
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Mr Hancock, however, emphasised that companies which were prepared to invest in British workers would ultimately reap the benefits.
“Those who put the effort in have ended up with a more motivated employee who is more connected to their company. If you, as the company, put something in, then you get somebody with a great attachment to you in return,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
In response to the declaration made by Mr Hancock, Mike Cherry, national policy chairman at the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), told Channel 4 News: “Small businesses are … committed to taking on the best people for the job. Unfortunately not every small firm is able to do that, because there is often a lack of skills, especially when businesses hire a young person.”
According to Mr Cherry, recent FSB research found that 61 per cent of small business owners are not confident they will find young people with the right skills. Competence in literacy and numeracy were raised as a barrier to hiring by 40 per cent of small businesses consulted in their survey.
“Businesses are more than ready to invest time and money training staff, but some fundamental basics must be met … Schools should be reaching out to local small businesses to help ensure young people get the work-related learning they need to fill the available vacancies,” he said.