The chief executive of Next has suggested companies could pay a “visa tax” to access overseas labour.
Lord Wolfson, a pro-Brexit Conservative peer, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that skills shortages meant that the warehouse and logistics areas of his business were struggling.
He said that businesses could get visas for skills they “desperately need” by paying a visa tax on top of salary, “let’s say 7% of wages”. He also argued that employers should have to pay UK workers the same amount as overseas workers.
He told the show: “We need to design a system that delivers the skills but at the same time makes sure UK workers are not deprived of opportunities that they might want.”
Adding a visa tax would “ensure people are not being brought into the UK to undercut UK workers because they will always be more expensive and it provides the skills Britain desperately needs to keep its industry moving”, he said.
Lord Wolfson added that UK businesses, rather than the workers themselves, should be responsible for visa applications, and that visas should be priced at a level that made recruiting from overseas the same cost as hiring from the UK.
The retailer warned earlier this month that staff shortages and logistics difficulties could mean higher prices for consumers in the run-up to Christmas.
In his speech to the Conservative party conference today, prime minister Boris Johnson will reaffirm the government’s message that businesses should not rely on overseas workers and should focus on developing domestic skills instead.
He will pledge to create a “high-wage, high-skill, high-productivity” economy, accusing political opponents and predecessors of using migrant labour to keep wages down.
He will say organisations must use the immigration system to “allow people of talent to come to this country, but not to use immigration as an excuse for failure to invest in people, in skills and in the equipment or machinery they need to do their jobs”.
Writing in the Evening Standard earlier this week, Lord Wolfson claimed the government was ignoring the reality of labour shortages.
He said: “The dearth of HGV drivers is just a very visible example of a chronic problem affecting thousands of restaurants, care homes, small businesses, hospitals, fruit farms, warehouses and more, along with all manner of seasonal work.”