Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Europe must solve its own labour problem

Financial Times - 19 June 2001

Sir

You report (June 11) that the UK home secretary is preparing to introduce a new work permit regime along the Australian model. The recent experience of many Indian information technology workers being sent home from Silicon Valley suggests such schemes can be problematic, even when limited to solving temporary labour shortages in particular industries.

What is less often appreciated is the enormous harm that such cherry-picking can do to the economies of developing countries, making it almost impossible for them to break out of the spiral of poverty and dependency that helps to perpetuate the differences between the world's rich and poor countries. Developing countries need their skilled labour far more than industrial economies, whose employers have simply failed to make the necessary investments in training and education or been unprepared to use internal market mechanisms to ensure an adequate supply of skilled labour.

Not only does such a policy undermine international aid programmes but the increasing disparity of incomes that it helps to perpetuate will also ensure that the rate of illegal immigration of unskilled workers will not fall, as is sometimes claimed, but will continue to rise, as in Australia and the US.

In short, we in Europe owe it both to ourselves and to the rest of the world to solve our problems ourselves, through measures such as the reintegration of older workers and targeting investment and education to the needs of the economy. David Blunkett should think again.

Dr Charles Tannock MEP
Brussels