Labour will scrap the “absurd” policy that allows those from overseas to receive lower wages for the same jobs, Sir Keir Starmer has said.

The party said that, under a Sir Keir premiership, the ability for employers to pay wages that are 20% under the UK going rate for jobs in sectors appearing on the shortage occupations list would be stopped.

The list, which is designed to help sectors such as the health service that are struggling to fill vacancies, would remain but with reforms designed to assist Britons to find jobs in those industries in the future.

Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions, Sir Keir said he would “scrap” what he called a “perverse wage cutting policy” that can make it cheaper for employers to recruit from abroad than it is to take on domestic workers.

It comes after official revised figures published last week showed net migration, those arriving in the UK legally, reached a record 745,000 in 2022.

Sir Keir told Prime Minister Rishi Sunak: “Under this Government, a bricklayer from overseas can be paid £2,500 less than somebody who is already here.

“A plasterer, £3,000 less. An engineer, £6,000 less.

“The list goes on, it’s absurd.”

A spokesman for Sir Keir, in a briefing with reporters after PMQs, said Labour thought the 20% “salary discount” for jobs on the shortage occupations list was “an incentive that we don’t think should be there, for employers to use overseas recruitment to undercut local wages”.

He said the party would “reform and strengthen” the Migration Advisory Committee (Mac) so it has “better information about changing skills and labour shortages”.

Labour has also proposed setting up Skills England, a body to help improve job opportunities and employment prospects, if it wins the next election.

Shortage occupations
Social care features on the shortage occupations list (Joanne Bardgett/PA)

Sir Keir’s spokesman said: “What this will do is, where there are shortages that need to be filled through international recruitment, we will make sure there is proper training and plans for improving pay and conditions.

“We will link the shortage occupations list to that skills training employment conditions and modernisation so that where employers are recruiting from abroad, there are also plans for getting people into work in Britain.

“In Australia, they have a system where if an occupation remains on the list for a certain number of years, then there is government action that steps in to look at why particular occupations are staying on the shortage list for as long as they are.”

The spokesman said Labour would not be setting a target for how far it would like to see migration reduced by but said the numbers of entrants under the Tories was “too high”.

Sir Keir’s spokesman said Labour wanted migration brought down to “more normal levels”.

In response to the Labour leader, Mr Sunak said his Conservative Government had introduced measures designed to stem record net migration levels and vowed to “bring forward more”.

According to reports, immigration minister Robert Jenrick has produced a plan designed to reduce net migration which includes scrapping the shortage occupations list.

He also understood to be pressing for a ban on foreign social care workers bringing in any dependents and a cap on the total number of NHS and social care visas.