Uncontrolled migration isn’t the answer to the UK’s labour shortages

Containers at Felixstowe

A shortage of HGV drivers has led to an increase in the number of containers that are stored at Felixstowe. - Credit: The Port of Felixstowe

Current labour shortages, particularly of HGV drivers, are causing disruption and delay across the country: but Keir Starmer’s uncontrolled immigration is not the answer. 

Supply chain disruption and delays illustrate a period of change for the economy, as the Prime Minister leads a transition from over-reliance on low-paid labour from accession states in the European Union to a nation of better skills and training, higher wages, and prioritising domestic workers. 

The current delays with container vessels at Felixstowe have raised concern, as the UK’s largest port has developed a backlog of shipping containers due to haulage delays affecting a busy time of year. Recent petrol shortages, caused by a shortage of HGV drivers, have understandably caused disturbance and confusion - panic buying exacerbated the supply chain delays, creating a stock shortage as supply struggled to meet unusually high demand. 

The issue of driver shortages is an ongoing struggle in the haulage sector, which for too long has relied on low-paid workers from European countries who are willing to endure poor conditions on the job. If we want the role to appeal to local people, business need to respond to the labour supply issue by acknowledging the need to improve pay and conditions. 

Boris Johnson emphasised this, claiming that we cannot “simply go back to the tired, failed old model, reach for the lever called uncontrolled migration, get people in at low wages”. The government have set out a vision for a highly skilled, high wage economy, which uncontrolled immigration fundamentally undermines. We need to invest in people and encourage businesses to raise productivity through training workers currently lacking the skills. 

This economic argument for reservation and conservatism towards immigration clearly resonates with people. Two of the callers who commented on the Channel 5 programme after Boris Johnson’s words on controlling immigration, both self-described ‘working class’ individuals, supported the Prime Minister on his stance - it is clear that the PM’s message on improving pay and provision for vital supply chain industries such as haulage echoes the thoughts of many, particularly the less conventional supporters who put their faith in the Conservative party for the first time in 2019.

In contrast, Starmer’s reach for the lever of uncontrolled immigration understandably ignites worry in the minds of many. The readiness to open the flood-gates with 100,000 new visas for HGV drivers demonstrates Labour’s fundamental misunderstanding of the national mood, especially from the working people they traditionally represent: Starmer’s willingness to flood the country with cheap supply of labour, depressing wages for domestic workers and keeping standards of living lower, is antithetical to the desires of those very people he professes to represent. 

Labour’s eagerness to hand out visas and increase immigration is a continuation in the push for a free movement of people – in stark contrast to the ethos of Brexit, and diametrically opposed to the interest of workers. Starmer’s taste for encouraging low-paid workers at the expense of domestic labour shows the preoccupation is with what is convenient for businesses. 

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I believe that the Conservative party should be dedicated to improving the lives of working people. I personally am happy to see the modern Conservative party prioritising the interests of working people, ensuring the labour market is reshaped in a way which benefits them – which is particularly striking at a time when these very people are seemingly deserting Starmer’s Labour.

I know many Ipswich people are engaged in the haulage industry, with a significant proportion of my constituents employed in HGV driving given the proximity to Felixstowe, and hope they feel as I do – that the Prime Minister’s stance on high wages, high productivity, and controlled immigration, represents the best Britain for working people.

I remember when I spent three months working in agricultural processing sorting radishes – a tough job, with low pay. Out of a workforce of around 60, there were only two local employees including myself. From this experience, I can say that the Prime Minister’s plan for the labour force and economy addresses a very real issue on conditions and pay. 

The current shortage of qualified drivers presents an opportunity: the opportunity to improve pay and working conditions to attract employees, rather than perpetuate the country’s addiction to importing cheap labour from Europe. Whereas Starmer has clearly lost touch - stoking reliance on cheap labour and poor working conditions – the Chancellor Rishi Sunak has demonstrated commitment to safeguarding the economy, and Prime Minister has set out a vision for upskilling British workers and creating a high wages economy. 

The Brexit referendum of 2016 demonstrated the nation’s desire to “end of a broken model of the U.K. economy that relied on low wages and low skill and chronic low productivity — and we’re moving away from that”, in Boris Johnson’s words. In voting to leave the EU, the country voted to take control of borders and put an end to uncontrolled immigration. 

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