The CBI said it rejects communities minister Hazel Blears’s view that employers may be compelled to pay for immigrant workers to learn English.
She said recently: “I feel quite strongly that employers should be taking a siginificantly bigger role in helping to fund some of the essential English language classes.”
She added that her ministry, the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) was discussing the issue with employers’ representatives and that she had not “ruled out the possibility of legislation if absolutely necessary.”
The CBI said: “Forcing firms to pay for business-relevant language skills for migrant workers would be strongly opposed as this would not recognise employers’ individual circumtances and would not necessarly be the best use of resources.”
A CBI spokesman said it would go through the usual channels to air its oppposition to any proposed legislation that compelled employers to pay for English lessons.
Sally Low, British Chambers of Commerce director of policy, said “legislation that forces businesses to fund migrants’ langauge lessons seems extremely unfair.”
But TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “Employers benefit hugely from migrants’ skills, so it’s only right they should take some responsibility for English language training.”
Last October the government launched its ESOL (English as a Second Language) for Work initiative, designed to provide English language training for immigrant workers. Although largely funded by the taxpayer employers must also contribute £300 for each worker on an ESOL for Work course.
“Many employers help with the costs of English classes,” said the CBI, “and see the advantages of doing so. To this extent we support the ESOL for Work courses.”
Blears said the government paid £300m last year for English courses for immigrant workers, which are provided free of charge for non-English speakers who are on benefits.