Employers lose fear of migrant workers

Concerns about recruiting migrant workers have receded to such an extent that employers no longer fear attracting negative publicity by hiring them to fill jobs.

A study by the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) in 2004 found the majority of employers believed the public perception towards migrants was so negative that recruiting them would harm their business.

But senior HR professionals at businesses across the UK told Personnel Today that the quality of migrant workers meant potential public image issues are no longer a concern.

Transport operator FirstGroup is about to hire its 1,000th EU bus driver. Jim Dalton, the company’s European recruitment manager, said: “The benefits of using migrant workers are enormous. I don’t see why any organisation would be scared of employing them.”

Steve Carpenter, head of HR at coffee shop chain Caffe Nero, said: “We have a very positive view of migrant workers, and this is demonstrated by the fact that we have 66 different nationalities employed with us.”

David Price, managing director of recruitment consultancy Anglo-Polish, which supplies Polish workers to UK firms, said other issues were now higher up the agenda than the risk to reputation. “Firms are more concerned with providing [migrant workers with] accommodation and good pastoral care, and that they speak acceptable English,” he added.

The comments followed the publication of a new IES report for the Home Office, which found that employers compared migrant staff favourably with UK workers, particularly praising their work ethic.

Sally Dench, senior research fellow at the IES, said the concern about damage to reputation was simply not raised. “The underlying feeling is that employers are pleased with the quality of migrant labour and the positive effects it can bring,” she said. “Employers just don’t seem to be bothered about bad publicity.”

Feedback from the profession

Steve Carpenter , head of HR, Caffe Nero

“We have employed great people from many nationalities as well as poor ones. Also, a lot of our recruitment works by word of mouth, so the more of one nationality we employ, the more we continue to employ.”

Sara Edwards, vice-president HR, Maybourne Hotel Group

“Customers expect enthusiastic, helpful, smiling staff with a passion for service. This is what strengthens our brand – not someone’s nationality. Having a multinational, multilingual workforce mirrors our guest profile.”

Tom Hadley, director of external relations, Recruitment and Employment Confederation

“Migrant workers have had a positive impact on the labour market in the UK. Most employers are quite bullish about their recruitment of migrants, and the benefits are well documented.”

Barometer question

Has your organisation’s attitude to employing migrant labour in the UK become more positive in recent years?

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