But the dangers of unregulated labour have been underlined by the tragedy at Morecambe Bay. Migrant workers should not be used to do the dirty and dangerous jobs that nobody else will; they should be paid the same rates and have the same conditions as British workers. Regulation will help identify workers and ensure that the safety of all workers is protected.
The government and leading clients have an important role to play in securing a level playing field. They must insist on CSCS registration for all workers, including migrants, and establish monitoring mechanisms to ensure that standards are maintained. The National Audit Office should hold government contracts to account with audits of CSCS registration.
It is time that the government faced up to the problem of contractors using the CIS4 card as a "passport to work". Many contractors accept these cards as proof of employment and nationality. This is an illegal practice that further damages the industry's tax system.
There is also a need to examine the supply of workers to the industry. Labour agencies are making a fortune out of migrant workers. The UN Office for Drugs Control and Crime Prevention calculates that smuggling people is more profitable than drug smuggling. Workers who are brought into this country by this route are open to exploitation. The practices of labour agencies need to be transparent so it is clear that migrant workers are not having illegal deductions from wages or being given counterfeit documentation. Clients and contractors should have a legal duty to ensure migrant workers are not abused in this way.
The influx of migrant workers is throwing the British construction industry a lifeline. Without migrant workers, contractors would struggle to complete major projects. However, this is only a temporary fix. Enlargement will encourage a building boom in the accession countries and suck those migrants back to their own countries. Unless the industry puts resources into training British workers today, the industry could face an even more severe skills crisis in the future.
George Brumwell, General secretary of UCATT