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New York Times: As the Poles Get Richer, Fewer Seek British Jobs

On Tuesday, the Home Office estimated that immigration added £6 billion ($12.3 billion) to the nation's economy last year. According to David Blanchflower of the Bank of England's monetary policy committee, East European immigration has also reduced inflation pressure by increasing the supply of goods and services.

Indeed, Britain may soon face a novel immigration problem. As Poland's economy has improved this year, immigration has slowed, which economists say could cause labor shortages in British industries.

When Poland and nine other new members, most of them former Communist countries, were admitted to the European Union, many West Europeans feared an influx of cheap labor. <...>

But Britain, along with Ireland and Sweden, welcomed workers from the new European Union members -- partly because they took physically demanding, minimum-wage jobs that many native-born Britons snubbed and partly because a wide range of industries in this country were suffering labor shortages.

Today, the reputation of Polish construction workers, nannies and caregivers is so high that other East Europeans sometimes say they are Polish to increase their chances of being hired. At Strathaird Salmon, a fish farm in Scotland, more than a third of the employees are from Poland. <...>

But a decline in Polish immigrants could be a bigger problem than a surplus. "People still come," said Ania Heasley, who arrived from Poland 16 years ago and now runs a recruitment agency, "though with less hurrah and enthusiasm because they have realized the cost of living here is higher than they thought and if you don't speak English you will only get a low-paid job." <...>

This could present problems for British employers, which have relied on immigrants to fill certain unappealing jobs.



Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.
by marco on Sat Oct 20th, 2007 at 01:56:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
increase the wages of Polish workers. No snark.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Oct 20th, 2007 at 04:26:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yep.  I was reading a piece of research on migrant workers in Wales, finished within the last couple of weeks.  Because most A8 workers are employed by agencies, they tend to be on worse terms and conditions than native workers, and the research showed a number of places where locals were able to move up the grades and increase their pay but agency workers are only ever in the bottom band of pay and cannot move up even when they have the skills that mean they ought to receive much more.

It also showed that the majority of A8 workers are treated legally (although at the absolute minimum standards, still not desirable) and most are paid at or slightly above the minimum wage. So although the existence of migrant workers hasn't exactly undercut wages and taken work away, their presence has meant that the lowest wages are not increasing.  

Migrant workers are often used as buffers, thus protecting the jobs of the local or 'core' workers when business is slower.

Surveys of employers show that they like to use A8 workers since they have lower wage expectations, are more likely to work overtime and to work more flexibly ie at short notice and for long hours when needed and are perceived to be more reliable and harder working.

But I agree, raise the wages of Polish workers otherwise they will start to realise that it isn't worth coming to the UK and putting up with poor quality living conditions where accomodation is tied in, unfair wage deducation and terms from agencies, and blatant racism from British people.

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Sat Oct 20th, 2007 at 04:42:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But I agree, raise the wages of Polish workers otherwise they will start to realise that it isn't worth coming to the UK and putting up with poor quality living conditions where accomodation is tied in, unfair wage deducation and terms from agencies, and blatant racism from British people.

On the wages of Polish workers, I made a bad mistake by not including one particular paragraph from the article.  See this comment (though the accuracy of that paragraph may yet be debated.)

On racism, the article devotes just one sentence, but in a rather glib paragraph about the difficulties of adjusting to British food:

Racism is not a problem he often hears about. Rather, many Poles are struggling to warm to British cuisine, said Mr. [Jan] Mokrzycki [president of the Federation of Poles in Great Britain], who despite living in Britain for the last 60 years still needs his wife's Polish cucumber soup at least twice a week.


Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.
by marco on Sat Oct 20th, 2007 at 05:41:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Because most A8 workers are employed by agencies, they tend to be on worse terms and conditions than native workers,

but the agencies tend to be paid more than normal staff, which can cause increased tensions between full time and casual staff.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Sat Oct 20th, 2007 at 06:18:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Not by my understanding. Depending on the contract, agency workers usually have few rights and worse terms and conditions than permanent non-agency workers employed directly by the company. It costs the employers a fee to use the agencies but that doesn't translate to agency workers being paid more.

Some info on agency workers (which most migrant workers are) on the Worksmart website

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Sat Oct 20th, 2007 at 06:33:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No that's not what I said, the agency gets paid  more that dosn't usually translate to better wages for the agency staff. years ago I used to do a lot of agency work. It turned out that once the agencies costs were taken out it was making in the region of £15,000 per week the agency staff were being paid about £100 per week and the profits after all other costs were about 3/4 of the wages that the individual was being paid.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Sat Oct 20th, 2007 at 06:43:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ah I wasn't sure whether you were saying the agencies or the agency workers were paid more. So I tried to address both. But yeah, the fees and hidden costs of using agencies are extortionate.
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Sat Oct 20th, 2007 at 06:46:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
yep, I was struggling to heat a 1 bedroom flat, and the owner was running a small mansion, a range rover, and a stable with four horses.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Sat Oct 20th, 2007 at 07:01:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yet another example of the workings of the 'Trickle-Down' Theory.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Sat Oct 20th, 2007 at 11:08:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
increase the wages of Polish workers. No snark.

Actually, that is part of the problem for the employers, according to the article.  In the interest of brevity, I now see I wrongly excised the following paragraph below in bold, which is the last <...> in my excerpt:

But a decline in Polish immigrants could be a bigger problem than a surplus. "People still come," said Ania Heasley, who arrived from Poland 16 years ago and now runs a recruitment agency, "though with less hurrah and enthusiasm because they have realized the cost of living here is higher than they thought and if you don't speak English you will only get a low-paid job."

In addition to a better economic climate in Poland, Britain is also something of a victim of its Polish immigrants' success. Many who started in low-skilled jobs have improved their English and moved up the career ladder. Many Poles now reject lower-paying jobs, or team up with trade unions to ask for better pay and benefits.

This could present problems for British employers, which have relied on immigrants to fill certain unappealing jobs.

In the second half, the article explains that:

According to a World Bank survey, thousands of Bulgarians and Romanians are eager to work in Britain, but are unlikely to get the chance because, unlike the Poles, they did not gain work-permit rights when their countries joined the European Union at the beginning of 2007. The restrictions, which have generated debate over the benefits and costs of immigration, are up for review this year, and their fate is uncertain.


Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.
by marco on Sat Oct 20th, 2007 at 04:48:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This phrase "unappealing jobs" needs more deconstruction. As Jerome always notes, the first issue is "unappealing at that wage level."

However, I'd add the extra wrinkle that it's time to link the issue to the pressures on housing and other costs of living (which are in part created by the massive wealth inequalities.)

The key point about these "unappealing jobs" is that the pay level is largely uneconomic for "normal life."

The agricultural work is seasonal and unskilled, so what do you do for money in the winter months? There are some seasonal jobs around Christmas, but it's hard to see how it makes for a living annual income, unless you have the option to go back to a place where the cost of living is lower.

The fact is that these seasonal jobs have been "outsourced" to temporary workers from poorer parts of the EU at least since the mid-80s (when Spain and Portugal joined.) As an analogy - we've been living off the credit card for so long, we've forgotten what a normal agricultural economy looks like.

Likewise, many of the other "unappealing jobs" just don't pay enough for people to think about starting a family. And that is a pretty normal human desire.

All of this is amplified by inflation in the cost of housing, which remains imperfectly measured by official statistics and thus ignored.

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Sat Oct 20th, 2007 at 04:54:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I made the mistake of cutting out a paragraph in the article that claims that immigrant Poles in Britain are actually demanding better pay and work conditions.  See this comment.

However, I'd add the extra wrinkle that it's time to link the issue to the pressures on housing and other costs of living (which are in part created by the massive wealth inequalities.)

I'm not sure if it's accurate, but the article claims that:

In some regions, Britons worry that immigrants are pushing up housing costs and crime rates. The Polish influx was much larger than the government anticipated and unlike most previous waves of migrants -- from South Asia and the Caribbean, for instance -- the Poles did not restrict themselves to the cities.

The question is, is that worry well-founded?

The fact is that these seasonal jobs have been "outsourced" to temporary workers from poorer parts of the EU at least since the mid-80s (when Spain and Portugal joined.)

And from Poland as well (though does not say how far back):

Even before 2004, Britain's farms relied heavily on seasonal workers from Poland covered under a special agreement to help during the harvest season. Once Poland joined the European Union, many of these seasonal workers became full-time regulars, but the demand for seasonal workers remained high.


Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.
by marco on Sat Oct 20th, 2007 at 05:33:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Oops, I didn't mean to make that connection at all. The pressure on housing prices is not really to do with immigrants at all, it's the asset bubble at work.

It does increase the demand for immigrants though, because they are the ones who can afford seasonal living in that way.

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Sat Oct 20th, 2007 at 05:47:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Only 1% of migrant workers in Wales are working in agriculture (the same as London). Much lower than other areas of the UK. And 50% of migrant workers are based in 4 local authority areas in Wales (Cardiff, Newport, Wrexham and Carmarthenshire I think.)

So there is quite a mix of rural and urban based workers.  

40% of migrant workers have qualifications of NVQ level 4 or 5 compared to less than 25% of the UK population, yet mostly they are ending up in low skilled and low paid jobs.  The 20 top jobs that A8 workers end up doing are low paid and low skilled.

But we are now seeing more workers leaving the agencies and finding better employment, more suited to the skills they have - especially as they become more accustomed to British culture and are improving their English language skills.  So they are becoming harder to exploit, and are beginning to demand more. It isn't really a surprise is it?

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Sat Oct 20th, 2007 at 05:48:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm just about on the border of Carmathenshire,  and about three miles away is a large industrial abatoir, that now appears to be completely staffed by Poles. apart from that the maingroups of Poles that I regularly see have all got doctorates of one flavour or another.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Sat Oct 20th, 2007 at 06:04:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Absolutely no surprise, but my point is that "unappealing jobs" largely don't provide a stable, living wage.

I highlighted agriculture as it's most easy to explain the irregular nature of work there. Everybody understands that harvest comes once a year...

Outside of agriculture, the majority of "unappealing jobs" are indeed agency work. And the pay isn't good, but as you note, it's above minimum wage.

The problem is that most of this agency work, especially where immigrants are involved, tends to be irregular work. You can't easily build a life or raise a family on it. That's why these agency workers are usually single, often living in stuffed to the gills temporary accommodation and are only using the work as a stepping stone. Some are well-qualified and only do the work whilst they wait for an opportunity in their real field. A lot are building savings for a return to "the home country" and many that I've met actually go back to live with relatives during down times, because that's the only way to make the pay they are getting stretch to a liveable life.

I think until we acknowledge this, we're not understanding how much our economy relies on exploiting a section of people who are de facto excluded from pursuing a normal life. And pretending that British workers are eschewing these jobs on aesthetic grounds ("unappealing jobs!") really distorts things.

My worry of course is that we've built an economy (much like California, perhaps) that relies on a steady stream of low wage immigrants. But what does that logic imply once we've opened the doors to Bulgaria/Romania.

Do we press for more EU enlargement?
Do we seek to make new temporary labour visa agreements with countries like Turkey and Morocco?
Do we enact policies to widen our own indigenous underclass, forcing them further out of society so they will take these working conditions on?

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Sat Oct 20th, 2007 at 06:24:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Totally agree with you, I was trying to add to your comment rather than contradict in any way.  Wheras Wales doesn't use migrant workers in agriculture a great deal, the key jobs are as you say, unstable and fluctuating and not easy to live on.

The study I was referring to further up found with some case studies via unions that the agencies charged too much for poor quality accomodation and took the same amount of money regardless of whether the worker had enough work or not. So where hours varied according to the needs of the company, the agency didn't attempt to find alternative work for the workers on it's books but still charged them for accomodation.  In one case a worker was left with 18p to live on for two weeks due to this practice.

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Sat Oct 20th, 2007 at 06:50:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
18p? Who says Victorian Values are out of fashion?
by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Sat Oct 20th, 2007 at 07:05:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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