Up to 4 million British people cannot get the work they want because of cheap foreign labour, a report has claimed.
MigrationWatch said businesses were ‘getting away’ with insisting they could not recruit local workers because they had a ‘virtually unlimited’ pool of low-paid EU migrants.
A paper by the think-tank said there were about 1.5 million Britons looking for jobs and another million who worked part-time but struggled to find full-time employment.
But official figures did not take into account those who wanted to increase their hours, for instance boosting their time at work from 16 to 20 hours, or who were looking for a second job to top up their income.
The new research by MigrationWatch, based on analysis of Office for National Statistics figures, suggested the number of people failing to get the work they wanted – the so-called ‘under-employed’ – was 4 million.
The report found that, despite record employment rates for UK-born workers, complaints by businesses that they could not find homegrown staff to fill posts were unfounded.
The paper said the availability of a ‘virtually unlimited’ supply of labour from the EU who were willing to work for low wages has given little incentive for companies to hire those who were under-employed.
Yet one in five part-time male workers and a quarter of part-time female workers said they wanted to work more hours, it found.
The MigrationWatch report said: ‘Evidence suggests that during the downturn employers continued to increase their use of migrant labour while a considerable number of those in the UK-born population lost their jobs and were unable to find new work.’
Lord Green of Deddington, chairman of the think-tank which campaigns for balanced migration, said: ‘For far too long employers have got away with claiming that they cannot find British workers.
‘The truth is that they are simply not adjusting their working practices to meet the genuine needs of British workers because they have an unlimited number of EU workers on tap. Tackling this issue could well be another Brexit bonus.’
John Longworth, co-chairman of the pro-Brexit group Leave Means Leave, and a former director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: ‘We now have the bizarre situation that UK taxpayers are subsidising corporates to employ migrants while their own children are unable to get jobs.
‘While we have an unlimited supply of cheap labour from the EU there is no incentive for employers to invest in productivity improvements.’
MigrationWatch carried out the research following claims that a significant reduction in net migration will be a ‘catastrophe’ for UK businesses.
Ministers are devising an immigration system that keeps the economy buoyant after the country takes back control of its borders following Brexit.
Employers have warned that some sectors of the economy, such as agriculture and horticulture, rely heavily on EU workers – and could struggle if the labour supply dries up.