Gordon Brown pledges jobs for British workers
By Toby Helm, Chief Political Correspondent
Last Updated: 2:24am BST 12/09/2007
Gordon Brown has moved to outflank David Cameron over immigration by unveiling initiatives to limit the influx of non-European Union workers and guarantee a “British job to every British worker”.
In an attempt to prevent the Tory leader re-occupying traditional Conservative territory, Mr Brown told the TUC in Brighton that he wanted to work with 200 big companies to “fast track” hundreds of thousands of unemployed or economically inactive British people into vacant “British” posts.
At the same time he confirmed that non-EU migrants who want to come to Britain to do skilled or semi-skilled work would from now on have to learn English before they would be accepted.
“We will require you to learn English a requirement we are prepared to extend to lower skilled workers as well,” he said in a message to those eyeing jobs in this country.
The Government believes that around 35,000 of the nearly 100,000 skilled workers who entered the country from non-EU countries last year would have failed such a requirement.
Mr Brown's move comes less than a fortnight after Mr Cameron tried to regain the initiative on immigration in what many Labour MPs saw as evidence of a “lurch to the Right” by the Tory leader.
Mr Cameron described immigration as “too high” and said the inflow of so many foreign workers was putting huge strain on hospitals, schools and the stock of housing.
Having his say on the same issue, Mr Brown told the TUC he was signing up big companies on a scheme to train and offer job opportunities to “British men and women who today are inactive or unemployed.”
He added: “Between now and 2010 by this measure alone a total of 250,000 extra new job opportunities for British workers.”
He also announced a “fast track” scheme for single parents, guaranteeing them an interview at Job Centres.
Chris Grayling, the Conservative spokesman on work and pensions accused Mr Brown of “grandstanding” about problems for which he was jointly responsible.
“Gordon Brown has embarked on an exercise in political grandstanding on the sensitive issue of migrant workers,” he said.
“However his approach as well as being politically driven amounts to blatant hypocrisy.
“The Labour government has presided over a huge increase in migrant workers whilst youth unemployment in the UK is significantly higher than ten years ago.
“Now he is trying to pretend that the past ten years have had nothing to do with him.”
The Tories claimed that it would legally impossible for Mr Brown to create “a separate channel” for British workers when the UK was signed up to EU laws ensuring equal treatment for those from any member state in the community.
Mr Browns announcement was aimed at appeasing trades unions who believe the government has taken the easy route by easing overseas into job, rather than coaxing sometimes inactive or unemployment British workers into employment.
Mr Browns promise of jobs for “British workers” failed to impress many trades unionist leaders who were preoccupied with their demands for higher public sector pay settlements.
The Prime Minister was warned of the prospect of co-ordinated strike action across the public sector after he insisted he would not budge from his insistence that pay deals should stay within a two per cent average this year.
Mr Brown, who walked on stage to stony silence, received a lukewarm reception at the end of his address.