Next boss Lord Wolfson has hit back at the Prime Minister’s claims that businesses like his want the government to “fix every problem” by lifting immigration controls.
Lord Wolfson, who supported Brexit, told CityAM last month he would urge the government to ease immigration in line with demand, to help fill roles in retail and other sectors crying out for staff.
Now, he has responded to Boris Johnson’s claims that businesses should hike wages in order to attract staff, rather than pleading for more visas.
Speaking to Radio 4’s Today programme, Wolfson said it was not the case that businesses were addicted to cheap overseas labour.
He said: “I think that approach leads to queues at petrol stations and pigs being unnecessarily shot. I don’t think that is a particularly constructive approach.
In an ideal world, “there will always be a huge incentive to employ people in the UK if those people are available,” he added.
Wolfson said he was “absolutely not” calling for a return to uncontrolled immigration from the EU.
“What I have suggested is that we have a market-led solution, whereby businesses can get visas for the skills that they desperately need but with two conditions,” he said.
“The first is they have to pay those people coming from overseas the same wages as they pay UK workers. And over and above that, they have to pay a visa tax on top of that.
“That way we can have a market-led solution that ensures that people aren’t being brought into the UK to undercut UK workers, because they will always be more expensive. And it provides the skills that Britain desperately needs to keep its industries moving.”
Deputy prime minister Dominic Raab said on the programme that the country must end its “addiction” to overseas workers.
He said there had been an “easy reliance” on overseas workers and that this was “ducking” productivity problems.
In response to those who criticised the CEO for backing Brexit, Wolfson told CityA.M.: “I don’t think [the staffing crisis] is what we signed up for. We signed up for having control over our immigration policy. The only decision was that our British government should decide what the immigration policy should be.”