It’s not often one can find a reason to mention home secretary Theresa May and union agitator Len McCluskey in the same breath, but last month they were both involved in decisions that will have a major impact in the world of work.
Employers sighed in relief when May revealed the new migration cap for workers coming from outside the EU. In her wisdom she has excluded employees earning more than £40,000 who transfer from abroad (so called intra-company transfers or ICTs). They will be able to stay for up to five years, meaning it will still be attractive for global companies to base new projects in the UK and bring staff from their international operations into the country, believes CBI director-general designate John Cridland.
But many greeted the news, part of the government’s stated electoral pledge to cut net migration from 196,000 to tens of thousands a year by 2015, with derision. The number of visas issued to skilled non-EU migrants without job offers will be cut by 13,000 to 1,000 from April 2011, prompting Colin Stanbridge, chief executive of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, to declare that it would “deprive London of some the brightest and best professionals in the world”.
These 1,000 will be entering the UK workplace under a new ‘exceptional talent’ route, applying to scientists, academics and artists. As Nick Hobson, from law firm Speechly Bircham, says: “It is hard to envisage how the remarkably low limit for exceptionally talented individuals will attract the world’s brightest and best stars.” Moreover, ICTs alone account for 22,000 migrants a year, a higher figure than the overall cap of 21,700.
Either way, the overall feeling is that business has won an important concession but the figures are so small as to make little impact to general immigration while potentially damaging prospects of economic recovery.
It is this latter point that connects May to McCluskey. The news that McCluskey has been appointed leader of the UK’s largest trade union, Unite, is also bad news for the economy. McCluskey personifies a return to traditional union values it was he who was recently seen heckling Ed Miliband when the Labour leader talked about not bowing to industrial action.
Unite boasts of members in companies including Unilever, Heinz and Sainsbury’s, distribution companies working for Coca-Cola, Nestlé and Cadbury as well as running a campaign against the meat industry supplying Tesco. Such companies can expect a fight ahead.
McCluskey succeeds Derek Simpson and Tony Woodley, two chiefs who reportedly didn’t see eye to eye, resulting in internal wrangling. Sound familiar, Theresa?
Siân Harrington is editor of Human Resources magazine.