(Reuters) – Tesco, Britain’s biggest retailer, denied an accusation by Labour that it turns away British workers to exploit cheaper migrant labour.
In remarks that could drag British retailers into a politically-charged immigration debate ahead of a 2015 election, senior Labour MP Chris Bryant was due to say in a speech on Monday that Tesco and Next deliberately excluded British people from jobs.
Tesco, which employs more than 310,000 people in 3,146 stores across Britain and Northern Ireland, said Bryant’s accusations were untrue. Extracts of Bryant’s speech were made available to the media ahead of time.
“The statements in relation to Tesco are untrue,” Tesco said on Twitter. “We work incredibly hard to recruit from the local area and we have just recruited 350 local people to work in our Dagenham site.”
Bryant was due to say Tesco favoured workers from Eastern Europe over British ones and that it relocated one of its distribution centres in a way that discouraged local employees to continue working for the firm.
Labour’s allegations led local news bulletins on Monday and the denial from Tesco could embarrass Bryant and his party, some of whose own members have accused it of lacking a strategy to take on Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party.
Retailer Next said it did hire Polish nationals to work in Britain at busy times, but said it did so because it could not find enough Britons to fill vacancies and that it was not doing anything unethical or illegal.
“Mr Bryant wrongly claims that Polish workers are used to save money. This is simply not true,” it said. “We are deeply disappointed Mr Bryant did not bother to check his facts with the company before releasing his speech.”
(Reporting by Kate Holton; editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Jon Boyle)