‘Migration and Labour Law’ – 12 March, 2014

Professor Bernard Ryan (Leicester Law School)

This paper will examine the potential contribution of labour standards reform to current public policy concerning labour migration in Britain.

The background is the large increase in labour migration to the United Kingdom, with an estimated increase in the share of foreign-born workers from 7% in 1997 to 14% in 2013. There is evidence of the greater concentration of non-UK-born workers in lower-skilled occupations and sectors, due to a combination of shortages of resident labour supply and employer preference for some categories of migrant worker. There is also some evidence of negative impacts upon wage levels.

These labour market developments have contributed to public opposition to current levels of labour migration, and accordingly to government attempts to formulate a labour migration policy which is simultaneously politically attractive and economically credible. The most recent focus has been on the Coalition’s attempt to reduce net annual migration below 100,000. Both the viability and the rationality of this target have been questioned, because it largely depends upon restrictions on skilled workers and students from outside the European Economic Area.

An alternative approach, which the Labour Party has adopted since 2012, looks to labour standards reform within the migration policy debate. The background is that Britain's comparatively flexible system of labour market regulation tends to facilitate entry to the labour force by migrant workers. Labour Party proposals have concerned the enforcement of the minimum wage, the regulation and supervision of labour market intermediaries, and the equal treatment of settled and migrant workers by employers and agencies. To that list of possible subjects for reform, one might add the strengthening of collective regulation of terms and conditions, and of the overall system for supervision of compliance with labour standards.

Reform in this area has the potential to address public concerns about labour migration in ways that the current policy of restricting non-EEA migration cannot. Such a reform need not be protectionist in either intention or design. Rather, it can aim at reflecting two historic goals of labour law: fair competition between categories of worker, and the protection of especially vulnerable groups against exploitative treatment.

This event is part of the 2014 CELI seminar series, and organised by the Labour Law research cluster.


Date: Wednesday, 12 March, 1:00–3:00 pm

Venue: Jan Grodecki Room, first floor, Fielding Johnson Building (Maps and directions)

Contact: For more information please contact katja.ziegler@le.ac.uk


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