Britan's trade union movement clashed with the main employers' organisation, the CBI, yesterday over immigration, urging the Government to offer unrestricted entry to migrant workers from Bulgaria and Romania when they join the European Union in 2008.
While the CBI called for a "pause" before allowing more workers into the UK, leaders of the TUC urged ministers to put out the welcome mat.
Speaking after the publication of a statement from the TUC's ruling general council, Brendan Barber, the organisation's general secretary, said that the movement was opposed to restricting Bulgarian and Rumanian workers on the grounds of "principle" and for practical reasons. "We do not deny that recent arrivals from new EU members have had an impact, but this is because the UK's employment rights regime allows employers to exploit migrant workers and use this to undermine terms and conditions.
"The solution is to end the exploitation, not put up the shutters.
"Young healthy migrant workers make a net contribution to the economy and to the public finances through their tax. The solution therefore is to invest in proper social infrastructure."
He said that putting up barriers was not practical. "You cannot stop Romanians and Bulgarians from coming to the UK, nor can you stop them working if they are self-employed."
Introducing the CBI's annual employment trends survey, John Cridland, its deputy director general, said migrant labour had become vital to the flexible labour market since the accession to the EU of other eastern European countries two years ago.
However, there was "enormous pressure" on social services in certain areas of the country because of the influx.
Mr Cridland said the country needed to assess the impact on the prospects of the indigenous work force. There should be a pause while the situation was assessed. He pointed out that while the Government predicted that 20,000 workers would have entered the country over the last two years from eastern Europe, the number was nearer 470,000.
On the eve of the TUC's annual congress in Brighton, Mr Cridland urged the Government to resist calls for "unnecessary new employment rights". He said unions wanted new collective bargaining rights to be introduced on pensions and training, but companies already consulted their workers on these issues.Reuse content