When the British government says that employers “will need to adjust” to the lack of immigrant labour we would do well to consider what this means in practice. Most obviously, it means that workers will need to adjust. Because that’s what happens when employers are forced to adjust. They pass the stress of adjustment on to the workforce.
So, what might be the nature of this adjustment? Logic would suggest that if one source of labour is no longer available to be exploited another source must be found. Assuming the business continues to function doing the same thing as it was before, it will have the same need for labour. How might this be sourced? In mechanistic models of the economy a shortage of labour acts like a scarcity of any commodity – it forces prices up. Or, in the case of labour as a commodity, it forces wages to increase.
It rather goes without saying that the typical employer has a strong dislike of increasing wage costs. They will look for other solutions. And they will demand that the government facilitate these solutions. They will insist that the government act so as to assure them of the labour they require at the lowest possible cost.
One way in which the government can do this is by increasing benefits; effectively subsidising labour. It rather goes without saying that the typical British government has a strong dislike of increasing benefits. They will look for other solutions. And they will demand that the cost of the solution should fall on the politically and economically weak. Because being politically and economically weak they’re just asking to be exploited.
From the perspective of the government and its clients – definitely NOT the politically and economically weak – the ideal solution might be to reduce benefits and/or make benefits more difficult to access and easier to forfeit. Thus increasing the supply of low-cost labour by increasing the number of very hungry people who are disinclined to turn to crime in order to feed themselves and their dependents.
Meanwhile, both government and employers, and all the independent experts they can afford – which is a lot – extol the advantages of more flexible working arrangements. Et voila! As we’ll no doubt shortly be prohibited from saying, you have a source of labour to replace the source that has been lost at no increase in cost and with the same benefits that accrue to exploiting people who can’t defend themselves because they are politically and economically too weak.
The ‘optics’ of this is good because the British media can be relied upon to give the figures the appropriate spin. Unemployment rate down! Employment up! More women in employment! More young people with jobs! Immigration down! Profits up! What’s not to like?
Everybody knows the ugly truth behind this spin. But few complain. Either they depend on the system or they profit from it. Or they are too economically and politically weak for their opinions to carry any weight.
When the British government says that employers “will need to adjust”, the economically and politically weak have two choices. They can get a hat and wellies in the hope of protecting themselves from what’s trickling down to them. Or they can stop being weak.
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