Firms cautious over refugees

Employers are afraid to publicly recognise the high calibre
of refugee work because they fear negative publicity could damage their

The findings of a new report show that although employers
are impressed by the quality of refugee labour, and desperately need it to plug
skills gaps, they are too afraid to speak out.

The research, carried out by the Institute for Employment
Studies (IES) on behalf of the Employability Forum, found that many bosses
praised the refugees working for them highlighting their commitment,
productivity and strong work ethic. However, Richard Pearson director at the
IES said the perception problem was so serious that five of the 10 employers in
the study declined to even be named.

"The report warns that the fear of negative publicity
is a significant barrier to employers considering hiring refugees," he

The 10 employers all recruited refugees to help beat labour
shortages and included a construction company, a bus operator and the
Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service.

One respondent, Angel HR, said that the public animosity
towards refugees was so great that speaking out positively could threaten an
employer’s custom, because "the public perception is that refugees are
coming in and stealing jobs".

The report said the main barriers to recruiting migrant
staff centred on poor documentation, low levels of workplace English and a lack
of adequate training.

Employers called for more Government assistance particularly
around documentation as well as some clear guidelines and a national helpline.

The Employability Forum suggests that work placements which
eventually lead to permanent work would be the most effective way of easing
refugees into the UK workplace.

Jennifer Hurstfield, co-author of the report, said there
must be a change in public opinion to enable firms to beat the skills shortages
using refugees. "The success of any strategy may rest on the ability to
create a more positive climate in which employers will not be subjected to the
unwelcome media spotlight."

Home secretary David Blunkett has announced that all
non-British citizen workers will be issued with ID cards and be barred from
claiming benefits in the first two years. Workers from ten new EU member states
will still be entitled to work in the UK from May.

Ross Wigham

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