* Immigration a hot political topic in Britain
* Senior MP accuses Tesco and Next of shunning UK workers
* Retailers deny unethical or illegal practices
By Andrew Osborn
LONDON, Aug 11 Britain's opposition Labour party
is to accuse supermarket giant Tesco and clothing
retailer Next of turning away British workers where
possible to exploit cheaper migrant labour.
In a speech that will drag the firms into a
politically-charged immigration debate ahead of a 2015 election,
senior Labour lawmaker and immigration spokesman Chris Bryant
will accuse the companies on Monday of deliberately excluding
"It is unfair that unscrupulous employers whose only
interest seems to be finding labour as cheaply as possible, will
recruit workers in large numbers in low wage countries in the
EU, (and) bring them to the UK," Bryant will say, according to
advance extracts of his speech.
Polls show immigration is one of the subjects that worries
British voters the most and any perception that retailers are
deliberately disadvantaging locals could damage Prime Minister
David Cameron's Conservatives as well as the firms themselves.
Cameron is trying to stop an exodus of voters to the
anti-immigration UK Independence Party before the 2015 vote.
Bryant will accuse Tesco of favouring workers from Eastern
Europe over British ones and of relocating one of its
distribution centres in a way that discouraged local employees
to continue working for the firm.
He will also accuse Next of bussing in workers from Poland
to skirt British labour laws that would make hiring comparable
local workers more expensive.
Next said in a statement on Sunday it did hire Polish
nationals to work in Britain at busy times, but said it did so
because it couldn't find enough Britons to fill vacancies and
that it was not doing anything unethical or illegal.
"Mr Bryant wrongly claims that Polish workers are used to
save money. This is simply not true," it said. "We are deeply
disappointed Mr Bryant did not bother to check his facts with
the company before releasing his speech."
Tesco could not be reached, but a Tesco spokesman told The
Sunday Telegraph newspaper it was wrong to accuse the
supermarket giant and that it tried hard to recruit local people
Bryant's intervention comes as Labour's opinion poll lead
over the Conservatives narrows and its leader Ed Miliband faces
criticism from colleagues for what they see as a failure to
communicate the party's policies clearly or strongly enough.
"We're not suggesting any law has been broken," a Labour
source told Reuters. "Tesco and Next are anecdotal examples,"
the source added, saying the party wanted to spotlight the
problem so it could be solved.
Separately, Labour cited research that showed Britain had
seen one of the biggest falls in real wages of any EU country