Mark Wingett reports on the trend for employing migrant workers and how to do it the right way.

Since the expansion of the European Union in May 2004, the British Government has estimated that up to 13,000 new workers have entered the UK marketplace. Migration Watch, an independent body set up in 2001 to monitor migration flows to and from the UK, believes the figure is closer to 40,000.

Whatever the true picture, more and more businesses are looking beyond these shores to recruit staff and placing an emphasis on high skill levels rather than the obvious advantage of paying lower wages.

Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development chief economist John Philpott says: “The vast majority of UK organisations are recruiting migrant workers to obtain skills and experience in short supply here, not to get staff on the cheap. Migration is also helping to prevent wage inflation, with most employers expecting pay pressures to remain subdued.”

Tesco has recently taken on 140 truck drivers from Poland because it says it cannot find enough people to transport groceries from its warehouses to its ever-expanding estate of stores in the UK.

It’s a step other organisations are also interested in exploring.

Nisa-Today’s managing director of logistics Stephen Hunter says: “We are committed to providing our members with the sector’s best distribution service. We recruit the most professional and appropriate personnel to work in our warehouse, regardless of their ethnic origin. There’s a huge shortage of labour in this country. Provided the potential employees are intelligent, capable of conducting the role we require and legally able to work in the UK, Nisa-Today’s is happy to recruit employees from foreign countries.”

According to London retailer Nick Cooper, who runs two c-stores under the Hudson’s banner in Wandsworth and Bow, those born outside the UK make up 40% of the overall catchment area for employing staff. He says: “At present, I employ 20 members of staff, and only two of them were born in the UK. London is a very competitive place for jobs as it is, and people who already live here are not looking for jobs that pay the national minimum wage and a bit more. “However, those who have just arrived in the country are keen to get started in a job as soon as they get here. Many are over-qualified, having given up good jobs in their own countries to get that first foot on the employment ladder here.”

The store’s locations also play a big part in Nick’s recruitment policy.

He continues: “The store in Bow in the East End is in a very ethnic community and the majority of the staff come from that community. When they move on, they are replaced by people they recommend from that same area. “The store in Wandsworth, in the south-west of the capital, is in an area of high employment, and UK workers who aren’t employed are usually unemployable, which makes you look at other options such as workers from the EU.”

Nick also benefits from giving EU workers their first job in the country. He says: “You have to make the necessary checks on new workers and be able to produce the correct paperwork, but what you get in exchange is loyal, well educated and bright store staff who are willing to learn and, in many cases, stay and progress as the company grows.”

However, before businesses decide to take on workers from outside the UK they must make sure what they are doing is legal.

Browne Jacobson LLP partner and employment solicitor Ray Silverstein explains: “Employees from the European Economic Area are free to live and work in the UK but they must produce a document showing their nationality. This may be either a passport or national identity card or a residence permit issued by the Home Office confirming their right to reside and work in the UK.”

Since May 2004, people from Latvia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Slovenia, Estonia, Poland and Hungary can live and work in the UK. It is the responsibility of workers from these countries, referred to as A8 countries, to register with the Home Office within one month of starting work in the UK.

Silverstein continues: “If anyone employs an unregistered national from one of these A8 countries for more than 30 days without retaining a copy of their application form, or their certificate of registration, they would be committing a criminal offence. Failure to follow the procedures in place could mean a maximum penalty of £5,000.”

Silverstein says you need to make the necessary checks of someone’s paperwork before you employ them, which will then ensure that you are in the right, whatever happens in the long term. He explains: “The most important thing for employers to do is check paperwork from the start. Even if you employ someone from an agency, the burden falls on you to make sure their paperwork is correct before you take them on. You can defend yourself if the worker is later found out to be working illegally by making copies of the documentation he or she showed you before you employed them. As long as you check the information on this documentation and it doesn’t look fake, you are okay.”

l More than one in four (27%) UK employers planned to recruit migrant workers this spring - the same as the previous quarter. About one in five (18%) of employers hire migrant workers because they are more committed than UK workers to the role. The main reason for taking on migrant workers is the shortage of candidates in the UK with the required experience and skills.

Among those employers that recruit from overseas, almost half (48%) hire migrant workers to fill professional vacancies while 19% recruit foreign workers to do manual jobs. One third of UK organisations say the professional skills of migrant workers cannot be found in the UK labour market.

Around 40% of UK organisations say the standard of English attained by migrant workers is at best average. And about one third believe a good standard of English is necessary to do the job migrants are hired to do.

Source: Latest quarterly Labour Market Outlook from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development