Migrant workers in the Olympic jobs battle

50,000 foreigners have registered for jobs as MPs urge for cost-cutting

14 November 2008. More than 50,000 migrant workers have registered for work in Newham, the borough that will host the Games. Estimates of the number of migrant workers on the site – mostly from Eastern Europe and Baltic states within the European Union – range from 10 to 70 per cent.

Newham has seen the number of new National Insurance numbers surge more than any part of Britain since the Games were awarded to London in 2005.

The surge in new National Insurance numbers in Newham has prompted concerns over promise to provide thousands of skilled construction jobs to the local community. According to the Olympic Delivery Authority’s last month employment figures for the Olympic Park, 58% of the 2,700 workforce were resident in London and 24% from the East End. However, the figures do not indicate the worker’s nationality – or how long they have lived in Britain.

Labour MP Frank Field, who published the National Insurance figures, said for the Daily Newspaper that it seemed the benefits of the Olympics were going abroad, despite promises the Games would benefit local employment.

"If I was the Olympics minister I would be getting concerned. It is totally lawful but British taxpayers and lottery players are paying for jobs for foreign workers and it is not what we signed up for", he said.

Hackney MP Diane Abbott told a Commons debate on the Olympic legacy: "One way in which the big contractors are getting round and massaging the figures for local labour is by bringing labourers from all over Europe into the Olympic boroughs and putting them in hostels.

The Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) has a plant training school at the Olympic Park and stresses that one in 10 of its workforce was previously unemployed.

Construction workers’ union Ucatt is increasing the pressure on the ODA to continue to honour agreed minimum site rates. It is thought that migrant workers hired through agencies are typically paid up to £2 less per hour than their British counterparts.

However the ODA said its site enrolment form distinguishes between permanent addresses and temporary ones. A spokesman said: "We are trying to ensure that where possible the Olympic Park workforce reflects the diversity of the local area and offers opportunities to help unemployed people back into work. We take care with the figures that we publish and ask every worker on the site for both their current address and their permanent UK address and we only report our figures based on the permanent address."

The criticism came as Olympic minister Tessa Jowell fought to explain her comments that the government would not have bid for the Olympics if it knew a recession was coming.

In defence, Ms Jowell said: “What I was reflecting was that had we known that the economy was going to a downturn, the perception of some people would have been that the Olympics would have been a distraction and not a solution to this central problem.”

Field suggested the recession might allow 2012 officials to cut down the £9.4bn budget.

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