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UK industry welcomes immigration curbs

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Some employer's organisations in Britain are broadly welcoming proposals by the Home Office this week to restrict access for Bulgarian and Romanian workers. However, they have expressed concern that companies would be expected to police "who is and who is not a legal worker."

Under the proposals, skilled workers would still be able to work in Britain if no suitable UK applicant could be found, or if their skills were recognised as being in short supply. Students will have some limited rights to employment.

Food processing and agriculture are the only sectors which will initially be opened to "less skilled" nationals. The government intends to establish a committee to advise on how quotas are to be managed in these sectors.

The National Farmers' Union and the Fresh Produce Consortium, representing packers, processors and wholesalers, had previously expressed concern that the employers in key areas of the food industry would suffer from labour shortages if Bulgarian and Romanian workers were not allowed free access to British jobs.

The NFU welcomed the fact that Bulgarian and Romanians would be allowed in to pick fruit, vegetables and flowers but expressed concern that this would be at the expense of non-EU nationals, who have traditionally done this work under a seasonal agricultural workers scheme which is due to be phased out by 2010. Currently, the quotas for the Sector Based Scheme (SBS) have either been filled or are nearly filled.

Martin Howorth, NFU policy director said: "The total number of foreign workers available risks being cut substantially which will threaten the future of some businesses."

The British Hospitality Association, representing the hotel and restaurant trade, another major beneficiary of Britain's previous 'open-door' policy for east European labour, however supported the decision to delay full access for many Bulgarian and Romanian workers.

Bob Cotton BHA chief executive said "The industry has benefited from employing large numbers of Polish workers in the last couple of years. But more recently these have been bringing dependents with them and we recognise that this places pressure on local communities in terms of providing housing and schools.

"Bulgarians and Romanians at this time should only be allowed in to fill jobs where there are severe skill shortages, such as for chefs, and where they have accepted qualifications."

The Federation of Small Businesses expressed concern that "pressure will now be put on businesses to monitor who is a legal worker".

It said: "Bulgarian and Romanian nationals will be allowed to come to the UK but, under the Government's proposals, only a small number will be given the right to work. This will mean that businesses will be forced to check on who is and who is not a legal worker from these countries."

But David Frost, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce said that ministers were "right to restrict Bulgarian and Romanian people's right to work in the UK."

He said: "The government underestimated the scale of Polish migration and there is little reason to assume that high levels of migration from the two new accession countries would not take place unless some restrictions are put in place."

Business had benefited from migration but the environment had changed, said Mr Frost. "Unemployment is now rising. Our infrastructure is already coming under pressure from the unexpectedly high numbers of migrants who have already made their home in the UK."

Brendan Barber, TUC general secretary, expressed concern that the government would be unable to stop the free movement of the new EU citizens and "prevent them working as self-employed once they are here."

He said: "Bogus self-employment and cash-in-hand jobs are two of the commonest ways that workers are exploited in the UK ... while we welcome the recognition in today's statement that more should be done to crack down on rogue employers, they are neither broad nor effective enough to lift standards."

Romania and Bulgaria have both issued statements protesting the proposed closing of the open-door policy. Other European Union nations have yet to declare their policy intentions clearly.

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