Thought leadership

The boss of a sofa-making company said it is “very disappointing” that Home Secretary Amber Rudd accused his firm of recruiting “exclusively” from Romania and Poland.

Matt O’Flynn, who runs Hastings-based Collins and Hayes, said that 75% of his staff are actually from the UK. Ms Rudd visited the company, which is in her constituency, in August 2015.

She said the firm did not consider training up locals, despite the availability of a local college. “I went and visited a factory quite recently where they recruit almost exclusively from Romania and Poland, where there are people that have had experience in factories building these sofas… they didn’t even consider training locally.

“There was a local college they could have worked with, but they choose to recruit outside the UK,” the Home Secretary told the BBC’s Today programme on Wednesday.

Mr O’Flynn found those comments “very disappointing” and said his company was “committed to working with the local community” and had spoken to Ms Rudd about his need for more sewing machinists.

It is “commonplace” in the industry to hire staff from abroad when there is a surge in demand, according to Mr O’Flynn.

Collins and Hayes uses an agency to bring in staff from Poland and Romania, which it then trains up and hires on permanent contracts, he said.

Collins and Hayes, which supplies John Lewis and Furniture Village, has been making furniture for 140 years.

On Wednesday, the home secretary¬†defended plans to make firms do more to employ British people, saying “don’t call me a racist” for talking about immigration.

Under her proposals, firms could be forced to disclose what percentage of their workforce is non-British as a way to encourage them to hire more locals.

The home secretary believes firms are “getting away” with not training enough British workers and the existing resident labour test – which requires firms to advertise vacancies in the UK for 28 days before looking outside the EU – should be toughened up.

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