Sunday, May 07, 2006

EU enlargement and A8 migration

This weekend has brought some amusement for those following the complex question of A8 migration to the UK, with an expose in the Sunday Times of the practices of Roger Knapman, MEP and UKIP leader and someone officially against EU enlargement because of its immigration consequences, who enthusiastically hires Polish workers to complete the renovation of his house in Devon (via).

"Over the past 11 months they have been working 10 hours a day, six days a week, while living dormitory-style in Knapman’s attic. His son’s company claims east Europeans are up to 50% cheaper than their British counterparts."

And also "better workers" - happy to do long hours for low pay.

Nice work by the Sunday Times to expose such hypocrisy.

Over at the Observer, the ubiquitous subject of Polish migration to the UK is covered from two important perspectives: that of the sending state, where there is increasing desperation about the haemorrhaging of skilled and talented workers, and the consequences in relation to the rebuilding of Poland's own economy; and that of the migrants themselves - plumbers, construction workers, DJs, although some do concede that their opportunities in the labour market have hardly been sparkling.

Most this seems unbearably upbeat, at least for the migrants. But a darker side was also revealed in the papers, and other reports, this week. A report from Barking, new far right capital of the UK, noted that particularly vitriolic racism is now reserved for the new white migrants from Central and Eastern Europe. Reporting the views of an elderly white resident, one woman said:

"She said they told her that they had no problem with black people and that it was the eastern Europeans - the Poles and the Kosovans - that they were against. She gave me the leaflet. The headline was something like Keep Britain White. I realised then that they were going to have a lot of people fooled."

This confirms fears highlighted by protests and attacks on Eastern European migrants in Northern Ireland earlier this year.

And, building on those reports in the Observer today which refer to the deskilling of many migrants, who take jobs in the UK which are far below their acquired skill level, it is worth looking at the detail available in a Joseph Rowntree funded report (downloadable from here) from the Oxford migration centre COMPAS, which focuses particularly on the experience of those whose status changed on 1 May 2004, from either illegal migrant or migrant on a work permit, to lawful EU migrant enjoying freedom of movement. Revealing diaries from the migrants reprinted in the report belie the "official" version of happy smiling migrant Poles and others, willing to do long hours for low wages.

Here are a few snippets:

"Catering is such ungrateful and tiresome work, requiring so much physical effort and no intellectual effort… It is a big physical effort which definitely is not proportional to the payment. And in general this job is very dulling on a long term basis – burning one out intellectually I would say."
Polish female hospitality worker aged 28

"I am more and more nervous because of the fact that I am not able to get a job according to my education and skills and I still work manually which brings me down pretty much. Every day my mind is occupied by money! What is the fastest way to earn? I have no problem with manual work but I would like to use my brains and skills to earn money."
Slovak male former au pair

And the message is? Many, most, perhaps all of the residents of the UK have, in recent years, benefitted from the influx of low wage labour, which has picked the fruit, repaired the plumbing, and made the capuccinos. Maybe we should just be shrugging our shoulders and saying: it's the market. Perhaps that will be Roger Knapman's explanation for his hypocrisy. Or maybe we should recognise the situation for what it is: complex, in terms of its impacts upon both the migrants and the "host" communities.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just to follow up the UKIP story, Knapman issued a rebuttal (http://www.ukip.org/ukip_news/gen12.php?t=1&id=2141) and reported the Sunday Times to the Press Complaints Commission (http://www.ukip.org/ukip_news/gen12.php?t=1&id=2143).

However, given the usual course of events, not much will come of it: UKIP's relationship with the media has never been happy and they tend to cry wolf rather a lot. A triumph of manners over political guile. Which sums up the party as a whole pretty well.

4:00 pm  
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