IT workers’ union Amicus is claiming the UK work permit system may be damaging skills investment and affecting the UK’s ability to compete in key industry sectors.
Amicus is also concerned that workers being brought into the UK are being paid below UK market IT rates.
In a report, the union said there is already evidence that industries such as IT are seeing an influx of short-term workers from abroad at the expense of resident UK professionals.
Amicus said, “A more rigorous approach needs to be applied to the granting of work permits, with a stronger onus on companies to prove they are unable to recruit those skills in the UK”.
The union is contacting Home Office ministers to seek assurances that the government will protect the future of long term investments for skills development in the UK, and to ensure that the work permit scheme is not abused.
Amicus’s national officer for the IT sector, Peter Skyte, said, “Companies should not be allowed to treat the scheme as an opportunity to put short-term profits before long-term investment in the UK labour market”.
Skyte said figures show a huge increase in companies sponsoring work permits to bring in IT workers.
Amicus said work permits granted for IT occupations have risen from 1,800 in 1995 to 30,000 in the last year, despite the IT workforce falling since 2001. It said 75% of these work permits are for transfers within companies, whereas only 11% of all work permits issued for non-IT occupations cover internal transfers from abroad.
According to Amicus, pay data also shows that 66% of IT work permit holders are paid less than the equivalent of £30,000 per year. The average salary of an IT professional in the UK is £32,500.
The Amicus claim comes as the latest SSL/Computer Weekly jobs survey found that demand for contract IT staff declined 12.7% between the first and second quarters of 2006.
“The fall in demand for contractors may presage a sharp fall in demand for permanent staff,” said Philip Virgo, strategic advisor to the Institute for Management of Information Systems.
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