UK's Labour tones down criticism of Tesco and Next

Mon Aug 12, 2013 7:54am EDT
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By Andrew Osborn and Peter Griffiths

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's Labour party toned down its criticism of retailers Tesco (TSCO.L: Quote), and Next (NXT.L: Quote) on Monday, a day after it said it planned to accuse them of favoring cheaper workers from Eastern Europe over British employees.

Chris Bryant, a senior lawmaker and the opposition party's spokesman on immigration, changed the wording of a speech he delivered on Monday morning to water down some criticism and retract some allegations altogether.

The climb-down is embarrassing for Labour which is trying to convince voters it is serious about controlling immigration ahead of a national election in 2015, conceding it made "mistakes" on immigration when in power from 1997 to 2010.

Labour is ahead of the ruling Conservatives by about seven percent in opinion polls, but some polls estimate its lead is much slimmer and its support has dropped in the last month.

Polls show immigration is one of the subjects that worries British voters the most and that many expect political parties to show they have a plan to tackle what they regard as excessive levels of immigration.

On Sunday, advance extracts of Bryant's speech showed he planned to accuse Tesco, Britain's biggest retailer, of making it difficult for British workers to relocate after closing down a distribution center by telling them their pay would be cut.

"The result? A large percentage of the staff at the new center are from (the) Eastern bloc," he planned to say.

But on Monday, he dropped the reference to pay being cut and avoided directly referring to Eastern Europe, saying simply that workers said they would have lost out in any move, showing how "sensitive" the issue of low-skilled migrant workers had become.   Continued...

A shopper passes a Tesco supermarket in London October 5, 2011. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor