Labour leader Ed Miliband has kicked off his party's election campaign with a major speech in Manchester setting out his party's offer to the British people.
Miliband tackled many themes of his leadership, including the cost of living and the NHS. He also didn't make the mistake of forgetting to mention the deficit or immigration as he did in his conference speech last year.
Making the case for Britain's membership of the EU he spoke passionately about his immigrant heritage and the benefits immigrants bring to the UK. However, In what may prove the most controversial remark of the speech, Miliband added that there needed to be:
Fair rules to prevent businesses recruiting at slave wages, exploiting migrant labour to undercut pay and conditions.
The implication of the remarks is that businesses are recruiting migrants at below the minimum wage.
Business group the Institute of Directors commented on Miliband's speech:
If the Labour Party have evidence of a secret epidemic of businesses hiring migrants on less than the minimum wage (which is illegal) then they ought to produce it. From the IoD’s perspective we know that our membership – which is overwhelmingly small and medium-sized businesses – recruit migrants to combat a skills shortage, not to undercut local workers. Furthermore, we know that 80 per cent of IoD members already pay their lowest paid staff more than the Living Wage
Sam Bowman, deputy director of the Adam Smith Institute, added:
We already have rules that prevent businesses from hiring workers of any nationality at "slave wages" and protect health and safety standards in the workplace, so what Ed Miliband is proposing is either meaningless or code for rules that disadvantage foreign workers to protect British workers. Rules that make it costlier for British firms to hire foreign workers will increase costs for consumers and reduce British firms’ efficiency.
Miliband's relationship with business has been a running sore of his leadership. In his 2011 party conference speech, he divided businesses into predators vs producers. He has pledged to freeze energy prices, as well as hike taxes on the rich much to the chagrin of the business world.
Tony Blair recently warned his party not to retreat to its comfort zone and lurch to the left. Speaking to the Economist, he said he feared an election "in which a traditional left-wing party competes with a traditional right-wing party, with the traditional result".
Labour has consistently sought to counter the public's fears surrounding immigration by promising to clamp down employers paying less than the minimum wage. Though some argue this is less of a problem than Miliband is suggesting. Fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs Len Shackleton, said:
Evidence from the Low Pay Commission, amongst others, suggests that the extent of under-payment of minimum wages is very limited. It most often seems to result from a misunderstanding of the complex rules surrounding the national minimum wage.
Mr Miliband should put up his evidence or shut up. His assertions feed prejudice.
Miliband told the Salford audience that Labour wouldn't win the election by "buying up thousands of poster sites, but by having millions of conversations". The Labour campaign is hoping to hold four million conversations with the British people in four months. He accused the Tories of presiding over an unfair recovery and looking out for the interests of the rich.