Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

Brown-ed off over foreign workers here

Lindy McDowell, Belfast Telegraph

Gordon Brown may not be into protectionism. But Gordon Ramsay is.

In a recent episode of his Kitchen Nightmares he revisited an eaterie he’d previously helped to see how it was coping with credit crunch. Not spectacularly, it transpired. So ‘Chef Gordon’, as the Americans call him, suggested an obvious strategy.

The restaurant had fallen back on cheap imports from the cash and carry as a cost-cutting basis for its menu. Gordon, however, advised buying local.

His argument? The local butcher, greengrocer, cheese-maker, farmers and growers were all struggling, too. By working together — restaurant serving up best local produce, producers offering best local prices — they could support each other. And local people seeing local jobs at risk would support them.

His plan worked. As, it has to be said, did a lowering of prices at the restaurant.

Mr Ramsay knows his (home-grown) onions.

Gordon Brown coincidentally, has also had an F-word on his plate this week.

F for foreign. As in foreign worker.

The same people, in other words, that we were calling migrant workers a few days back. Before the recent wildcat strikes.

Workers at the Lindsey oil refinery in Lincolnshire started the industrial action to protest after its owner Total gave a £200m contract to an Italian firm. The firm, IREM, is using its existing workforce of Italian and Portuguese workers to carry out the job.

This has angered British workers who say they are equally qualified to do the work. They cite a 2007 promise from Gordon Brown himself about “British jobs for British workers”. And they have been backed by union reps. Wildcat strikes in support of their cause have included a walkout at a power station in Northern Ireland. These are not extremists or racists. These are people who have worked hard, paid their taxes, supported the system — and now feel the feet and the jobs cut from under them by the ‘outsourcing’ of employment in their area.

At a time of recession, emotions are understandably running high. The danger that this is a situation which could easily be exploited by the vile nut bags of the BNP is obvious. So what does the Government do? Step forward Lord Mandelson — the man the newspapers are now calling Mandy Antoinette.

His lordship isn’t so much saying : ‘Let them cake’ as ‘let them eat croissant, bratwurst and pasta’.

He’s advising workers in the UK finding it difficult to secure employment at home to look for work elsewhere in Europe.

Easy said when you’re a well-heeled politician funded by taxpayers comfortable zipping around a Euro zone you regard as one big country. Not so easy when you’re a middle-aged working class punter with family commitments, no specialist skills and unable to speak another European language.

But European workers come here, we’re told. They do indeed. But most of them are young, without dependants, can speak some English and know that they will be able to avail of a benefits system that in many cases outshines that in their native land.

Many are economic refugees from Eastern Europe. Who can blame them? In the same circumstances most of us would do exactly the same.

These people should not and must not |become the target for the current anger of British workers. It is down to government to limit migration (as the German government, for example, has done.)

It is not the fault of migrant workers availing totally legitimately of an open |border policy that unemployment levels are rising here.

That is entirely the fault of a government which couldn’t see this one coming — a government which used to confidently predict numbers of incoming migrant workers in terms of “a few thousand”.

The scary thing is, of course, that the |current anger could so easily spiral into something so much more dangerous than a local dispute over ‘outsourcing’.

Has the Government even got a clue how to handle this?

The contributions of Lord Mandelson and of Caroline Flint, Minister for Europe, also pointing up the job opportunities in Europe, would suggest not.

Once again Gordon (Brown) looks set to make of this what is shaping up to be his signature dish. A complete hash.

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