Bosses may pay for migrants' English
By Jonathan Wynne-Jones, Sunday Telegraph
Last Updated: 12:55am BST 10/06/2007
Employers will be told to pay for language lessons for immigrant workers who have a poor grasp of English, under proposals to be unveiled this week.
At least 630,000 east Europeans have come to this country since European Union enlargement in 2004
The Government-appointed commission to improve the integration of ethnic groups will conclude that it is vital that everyone settling in Britain should be able to speak English. Too many groups rely on their native languages and are consequently uncomfortable with public services and people outside their community, its report is set to say.
The Commission on Integration and Cohesion, which was promised by Tony Blair in the wake of the July 7 bombings in 2005, says that moves to prevent immigrants from being marginalised will help to ease racial tensions and fight the appeal of extremist ideologies.
As the rate of overseas settlement in Britain runs at its highest ever, the commission will argue that many new immigrants are too poor to afford tuition and should have the costs covered by their employers. That would greatly improve their ability to contribute to society and would bring long-term benefits to cohesion in Britain, its report will suggest.
Although the recommendations are only advisory, it is likely that they will be rubber-stamped by the Government in a move that would bring ministers into confrontation with business leaders. They will be angry at being told in effect to pay for the social costs of the July 7 bombings and Labour's immigration policies. A source close to the commission told The Sunday Telegraph: “If an employer benefits from having workers who happen to have a poor grasp of the language it makes sense that they should do more to help them.”
It would cost about 600 to send an employee on an 18-week course to study English as a foreign language at a college of further education. Smaller businesses would struggle to pay, employers say.
“Some employers would simply not be able to afford to provide English classes, and in some circumstances they wouldn't be appropriate or necessary,” said a spokesman for the CBI. “Such measures may only serve to prevent immigrants from finding employment.” Stephen Alambritis, a spokesman for the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “This kind of proposal could breed -resentment in small businesses as it seems to be encouraging discrimination by giving preferential treatment to immigrant workers. I'd like to see small businesses exempt from this, as many do not have the funds or resources to cover this kind of policy.”
There are 4.3 million small businesses in Britain, the vast majority employing fewer than nine workers.
The report will be issued only days after the launch of policies to make it harder to gain British citizenship and to train unemployed workers for jobs now being filled by immigrants.
The commission says the language barrier must be tackled to prevent newly arrived families from perpetuating the isolation of communities where English is hardly spoken. “People coming to this country need to be helped to raise their level of language,” said an insider. “We found that to be the major barrier to their being able to integrate. If they can't communicate it entrenches a ghetto mentality. We need to give them the chance to break out of that.”
At least 630,000 east Europeans have come to this country since European Union enlargement in 2004 and more than 150,000 immigrants were given a passport last year, four times the number in 1997. Official figures show that at least half the children in more than 1,000 -primary schools in England do not have English as their first language.
The commission reached its conclusions after consulting employers already providing free language lessons in the workplace and enabling their staff to sit Cambridge ESOL exams in English.
The commission will suggest that if big business takes a lead in teaching employees English, others will be encouraged to follow. However, it will also acknowledge that many migrants will not be staying long enough to learn the language and should be given help with translation.