Malcolm Moss speaks out about migrant workers

IN a major speech to the House of Commons, Malcolm Moss, the MP for NE Cambs, spoke at length last week about the growing issue of migrant workers into the Fens. One of his targets was the Labour government which, he claimed missed a trick in the enlar

IN a major speech to the House of Commons, Malcolm Moss, the MP for NE Cambs, spoke at length last week about the growing issue of migrant workers into the Fens. One of his targets was the Labour government which, he claimed " missed a trick" in the enlargement of the EU when they did not make absolutely certain that we could control the flow of migrant workers. Other countries managed it much more efficiently and better than we have done, he said. The Government underestimated not only the numbers that would come, but the type of migrant worker who would come

In this edited extract from his Parliamentary speech, Mr Moss highlights some of the issues which he says affects his Fenland constituency

THIS is nothing to do with racism. We are the same race as our friends from Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and other places in Eastern Europe. We are almost the same people. The difference is that they speak a different language, so we cannot communicate with them. They also have very different cultures, which, of course, in every-day community life, are an abrasive front in the contact between indigenous peoples' in our small towns and cities and the migrant community.

The Government are finally waking up to the problem, but three years too late. The burden has been carried by local communities such as mine for all these years, and only now do we find that some Ministers are speaking up about the problems.

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Only the other day, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government said that migrant workers must learn English. That is a bit rich after all this time and all the problems that are associated with providing translation services to people who turn up to GP surgeries, for example. Those people know their rights, and they insist that the doctors and nurses bring in translators. That has been going on for years, and no one has done anything about it.

I recently visited my local citizens advice bureau, which wrote back to me after our meeting to say that it has become a port of call for migrants who have been abused by rogue gangmasters and that the issues that they "bring to the Bureau relate largely to employment and housing rights plus entitlement to benefits"- nothing new there.

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It continued:

"Employment and housing are often linked as the gangmasters' supply both the jobs and the accommodation, much of which is deeply unsatisfactory."

Those at the CAB say:

"We need access to interpreters and translators and the translation of benefit and tax credit forms into other European languages. Our own funding does not allow us to pay for these services and we feel that more should be provided by central Government."

Armed with that letter, I wrote to a Minister, only to be told that the funding for CABs was flexible enough to cope with those new pressures: end of story-no help, no recognition of the problem, so my local CAB soldiers on.

Migrants are not just single people who are accommodated in houses of multiple occupation, but families who are increasingly moving into our communities for permanent settlement. These people are welcome. These people are welcome in

our factories. They work hard. They have terrific reputations. Many of them are positive attributes to the community.

But the mere fact that families are now coming into our communities is creating a burden, particularly in relation to the provision of services.

I toured some of my schools recently and I was surprised by the number of children who speak English as an additional language-EAL as it is called-not only in secondary schools, but primarily in primary and infant schools.

I take my hat off to teachers for the fantastic work that they do. They have embraced the problem and have not moaned or castigated anybody; they have just got on with the job, because these are children. They do not see them as foreign children; they see them as children who need to be educated in the best possible way given the resources available.

Some of the heads teachers-in particular, Lesley Mardle of the Nene Infants' School-have sat down with their staff and written protocols. They have written down a way to embrace the local community, liaise with parents and make sure that both sides understand what is needed.

That protocol is being adopted by Cambridgeshire County Council as a blueprint for the way in which to face up to such difficulties. This year there are some 2,176 EAL learners in primary schools and 1,862 in secondary schools in Cambridgeshire. That is a significant rise on the 2006 figures, which were 1,840 in primary schools and 1,263 in secondary schools.

In Wisbech, which has seen the largest proportion of migrant workers, there are 314 EAL learners in primary schools and 161 in secondary schools. Most of those EAL learners are concentrated at the Nene Infants' School, as well as at Orchards School, Peckover School, The Queens School and, to a lesser degree, the Clarkson Infants' School. Those schools have been proactive in welcoming the new arrivals, providing them with access to the curriculum, and recruiting and training support staff for them. However the officers responsible for children's services at the county council have confirmed that the county is financially stretched when it comes to coping with the large influx.

What matters is the proportionality of the migrant worker population. Wisbech is particularly influenced by the problem because it has the larger number of food processing and packaging industries. It is to those industries that the low paid worker is attracted.

The problem is the little town centre being taken over by people who do not speak English, resulting in a feeling of alienation or pressure. There are problems in the community in accepting an influx of people who are not seen by my constituents as clearly and obviously making a big effort to assimilate. On that count, those with children are making a much bigger effort, and a more successful effort, than those without.

We now have houses in multiple occupation, but the law does not deal with the problem effectively. Council officials say that they know what they should be doing, but they do not know where those houses are.

Unless people complain and they go and investigate, they do not know which houses to take action on. In some cases officials turn up at the time that shifts are changing over. They find only three or four people in the house, but of course another three or four are working. There are eight people living in the house, as officials would find if only they went at the right time-but they do not, because like other people they finish work at 5 or 5.30 pm.

We are not addressing the problem and it is only a matter of time before there is a serious fire and loss of life at a house in my constituency. It will not be because the council has not been warned.

One of the problems that the CAB put to me is the fact that most of the migrant worker labour is organised by gangmasters-or agencies, as they call themselves. The Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004 relates only to food processing and packaging. It should be all-embracing, so that any worker who is involved through a gangmaster or an agency in finding work comes within the remit of the Act. The regulatory body should be given more money and more teeth.

Gangmasters have bought a great deal of the housing stock so they control the accommodation of the workers. When the payroll comes to the gangmaster from the company, he or she deducts huge amounts of money for accommodation before the migrant worker is paid. It is a massive abuse and no one seems to be doing anything about it. That is a tragedy.

If those workers are welcome in our society and are doing the work that we want them to do, what kind of society do they think they have come to when they are exploited in that way? Much needs to be done on the matter.

Not only do the gangmasters charge exorbitant rents for the people on their books, but, by buying up properties in the way they have, they have made house prices rise much more quickly. There is only a limited supply and those people are grabbing whatever they can. They can put three, four, five or more people into them at high rents, so they can afford to pay above the market price for the house. That has affected not only the house price market, but the level of rents in my communities.

I now find myself receiving people regularly at my surgeries who cannot afford to pay rent in the private sector. Rents are so far above the rent allowance that is provided that those people cannot go into the private rented sector. Therefore, the council waiting list is increasing all the time and, of course, we are not building anything like enough houses for rent in the public sector. There is an increasing housing problem and increasing resentment on the part of people in the local community that they cannot get a council house and cannot afford to rent privately.

The people who seem to be benefiting from the situation are the companies that are taking on labour exclusively through gangmasters and agencies. As each new wave of migrants comes in, the pressure is on the existing worker to take a slightly lower wage-because if he or she does not do the job at that rate, there are plenty of people who have just come into the country who will. Therefore, there are problems on that front, too, and they are beginning to stir up problems within the migrant worker communities, as well as between the migrant workers and the indigenous community. The gangmasters are milking the system. Not all of them are unscrupulous and rogues, but many are, so we need to tighten up the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act to ensure that there is real discipline and that the regulatory authority steps in to ensure that those people are receiving at least the minimum wage, if not more.

If the companies are benefiting, their shareholders are benefiting. What are they doing in return? Absolutely nothing, as far as I can see. They are just milking the low-wage migrant community worker and not putting anything back into the community. They are as responsible as anyone else for the problems that we face. They need to ensure that wages are at the right level and that their workers are looked after.

Local people cannot now get jobs in the factories in which historically they worked. I have tried each and every way to find a solution to the problem. As far as I am aware, in the past five or six years no major new company or organisation has arrived in my constituency. There has been some expansion in jobs, but not a great deal. Five or six years ago such low-paid jobs were done by local people; now, they are done by migrant workers.

Where have the indigenous population gone? These are people who do not have cars and cannot travel to Peterborough or Cambridge to find a job, so where are they in the local community?

Many may have been women who were part-time and are now sitting at home or working in the black economy-nobody benefits from that-or are unemployed so that the income into that household has diminished.

Let us not kid ourselves: there is displacement. It is no good saying-we hear this argument all the time-"They're coming in to do the jobs our people don't want to do." They are doing jobs that my people did a few years ago. I am not saying that everything should change-we cannot go back-but I want the Minister to understand that the people who have been displaced deeply resent what has happened to them.

I do not want to leave the impression that all is lost, or to be alarmist and say that the breakdown of the social fabric is imminent. That may eventually happen if we do not tackle some of the problems, but there is time to face up to them and allocate resources. Understanding is also vital. Teachers, citizens' advice bureaux and people in local authorities are soldiering on, doing their best and wanting to do more, but without the resources to deliver.

If we want people to integrated, remain in this country for the longer term and be part of our society and contribute to it, we have a responsibility not only to be welcoming, but to provide facilities to make the transition as easy and quick as possible.

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