The recent protest by British Airways IT workers sought to draw attention to the abuse of Tier 2 visas. GMB is currently in dispute with British Airways about plans to outsource 800 UK IT jobs to the Indian firm Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). A number of British Airways IT functions are already run by TCS and GMB has previously called on the Home Affairs Select Committee to investigate TCS’s use of the UK visa system to replace UK workers.
There are around 800 skilled IT jobs at issue, with BA colleagues based at various locations in the UK, at BA Headquarters at Waterside in Harmondsworth, West London, BA’s call centre in Newcastle, and at other locations in Manchester, Cardiff and Scotland.
The IT support jobs are well paid and highly skilled, and the ploy by BA is to outsource to India, where people will do the same job for a fraction of the money. Offshoring of skilled jobs is of course a habitual problem across a number of employers and sectors, however, what is distinctive about this case is that the IT support work requires the physical presence of the support workers at the customer premises in the UK.
What is happening therefore, is that the Indian staff are being brought to the UK on Tier 2 visas to do the jobs of the workers who they have displaced.
Because India is not part of the European Economic Area (EEA) it is covered by a complex range of tiered visa arrangements. Tier 2 applies to migrants who have been offered a skilled job in the UK with a prospective employer prepared to sponsor them, and it includes a Resident Labour Market Test, which is a process that an employer must follow before employing a person who is not a resident of the UK to show that no resident worker could be found to do the job.
Following the advent of the Coalition government in 2010, the conditions for Tier 2 were ostensibly tightened, however, the nature of those affected by Tier 2 visas means that generally they are used by companies experiencing what economists would describe as “demand shock”, where key skills are unavailable. It is clearly both economically and socially advisable that key skill shortages can be filled. This means that even with tightened Tier 2 rules, the number of skilled workers coming to the UK has increased since 2010, and this should be generally welcomed as this involves filling roles that are necessary and for which no one local could be found, and it typically does not lead to any wage reductions.
The difference in this case is that there are UK workers who not only are available to do the work, they have already been doing it! The Resident Labour Market Test is specifically designed to prevent this situation, and it raises the question of whether TCS are breaking the law, and whether the Home Office are turning a blind eye. Where migrant workers substitute for native workers with the same skills but for lower wages, then this is clearly more profitable for the companies involved, but it is deskilling the UK economy, and means that the opportunities for well paid, skilled jobs are not available for people already resident in the UK in the future.
This is obviously a bit of a minefield for unions and the left, with the danger of being perceived as anti-immigrant. However, the issue here is of a company abusing the law to disadvantage working people in the pursuit of greater profits, and they should be stopped.