UKIP leader Nigel Farage is embattled once again, following suggestions that UK equality laws are outdated. Farage claims that minorities no longer face discrimination when looking for work and says he would make it legal for employers to hire British candidates over others.
But Farage needs to check his facts. Research shows that they do suffer from racism and discrimination in the labour market, even today. The evidence suggests that discrimination is pervasive in hiring and complaints range from a lack of equal treatment when it comes to wages, overtime payments, recruitment, contracts and promotions. There are also reports of harassment.
Official UK reports also show that thousands of immigrants are working as slaves in the UK. They endure highly exploitative conditions and have no rights. They are threatened with violence and many experience it.
The financial crisis in Europe has prompted immigration to the UK and, as a result, negative attitudes towards newcomers – the kind so often associated with Farage’s party.
In response, the EU and the UK instituted specific legislation aiming to lay down a framework for combating discrimination in the labour market. That legislation made clear that people affected by discrimination should have adequate means of legal protection against unequal treatment and an effective right of redress.
These race discrimination laws need to stay in place. They are still relevant and serve as the guardian of fairness and liberty. A simple law about treating people fairly at work is all that is needed.
The laws are there to protect people who suffer at the hands of someone who doesn’t like them for no other reason than their race, gender, health status and sexual orientation. And these people still exist in the UK, whether Farage chooses to acknowledge them or not.
Is Farage seriously suggesting that an employer would prefer to hire a less qualified British worker over someone who would make a greater contribution to their business who happens to be from another European country? If such inefficient thinking is happening in the UK, changing national legislation to suit it would seem to be rather counter-intuitive.
From a labour economics point of view, firms should be able to employ the best applicant for the job. If a British applicant is better than a non-British person then the former should get the job. If it’s a choice between a Polish worker and a British worker the firm should pick whichever is the best qualified – nationality has nothing to do with it.
Each wave of migrant newcomers is believed to be a major source of crime, improvidence and socially undesirable conduct. But the more successful immigrants there are in the labour market, the greater their positive contribution to the economy and the lower their impact will be on the welfare system.
A general presumption is that immigrants who are selected according to their knowledge and skills are more likely to be successful in the host country. Indeed, this forms the basis of UKIP’s latest thinking on immigration policy.
On the other hand, if humanitarian criteria are used in determining entry into the country, success in the labour market may be harder to come by. Low-skilled migrants or refugees may find it harder to get work and cost the state more.
So if cultural diversity has attendant costs and benefits, the public needs to take account of them. This might involve new immigration policies that give preferential treatment to more skilled immigrants or focusing more on integrating immigrants through language learning.
Restricting the ability of immigrants to find work once they are already inside the country does not help anyone. All that will do is force them to depend on the state.