Page last updated at 09:30 GMT, Monday, 25 September 2006 10:30 UK

So you're Polish and want a job...

By Dominic Casciani
BBC News community affairs

David Pawlak: Polish worker in England
David Pawlak: Swapped teaching for leafleting and tripled his salary

If there was ever any doubt that the UK is in the grips of an extraordinary revolution, then hunt out the migrant worker recruitment fairs that are starting to spring up.

Last month, thousands of young Polish workers turned up at the third recruitment fair hosted by Polish Express, the London-based newspaper for the diaspora. Just as its circulation is growing by the month, so its jobs fair gets bigger each time it is held.

This time, there were some 5,000 Polish people queuing patiently in a west London suburb for a chance to hand over a CV to 40 employment agencies. As they queued to enter the hall that was filled to its legal safety capacity, they scribbled away at resumes, going over their pitch time and time again.

Most were in their mid-20s. Some had only recently arrived, having stuffed a few belongings into a backpack, bought a one-way no-frills airline ticket. Like Dick Whittington so many centuries before, were they expecting streets paved with gold?

A man reading a sign at the Polish jobs fair
Positions vacant: Thousands turned out for fair

Enthusiastically handing out flyers for a money transfer company was David Pawlak, a 26-year-old from near Warsaw.

Back home in Poland, David was a teacher, taking home the equivalent of 200 a month. But thrusting flyers nets him 600.

"I've got no idea how long I am going to stay," said David, "But I'm earning so much more I now know why so many people are doing it. My sister came first and suggested that I follow. I'm living pretty cheaply with her at the moment.

"The papers back home are talking about how so many people have come to England to work. But people also want to live a little - that's what I am here to do."

KEY STATISTICS
427,000 workers from eight EU accession states successfully applied for work in UK
Over half (62%) are Polish
82% are aged 18-34
56% work in factories*
Anglia region has highest proportion of workers (15%)
Source: Home Office
All figures May 2004-Jun 2006 except *Jul 2004-Jun 2006

Two years ago, this was a hidden revolution; most of the eastern European workers in the UK were in industries far removed from sight, food processing and seasonal agriculture work.

Today employers in more and more sectors have latched on to the idea of picking up cheap Eastern European workers.

And so inside the recruitment fair there were agencies from the length and breadth of the UK, many of them from the north, offering work in everything from catering and hospitality to care services, clerical, technical and engineering.

One of the most specialist agencies recruits marine engineers. Next door was pub chain Weatherspoons, where Poles have begun to challenge the long-established supremacy of the Aussie barman. Clearly, it wasn't just the candidates who were eager.

Those with fluent English were doing best - but many agencies had got round that problem by employing other Poles to translate.

From recruited to recruiter

Anna Misiuva arrived from southern Poland in March to join her husband who was already working here. She now works for recruitment agency Randstad and helps to place eastern European workers in the south-east. So what kinds of jobs are people going to?

Anna Misiuva
Anna Misiuva: Recruiting with colleague Chidima Nduka

"They've got to have a minimum of English," she said. "Our clients are looking for people who can work constantly, rather than on short-term contracts.

"The work can be difficult - sometimes it's a job in the food industry where people are working up to 10 hours in a chiller, for instance.

"With one of our clients [in the chilled food industry], most of the workforce are Lithuanian, some are Indian. None of them are British."

That willingness to do jobs that employers say British workers don't want, was at the heart of the boom, said Bob Owen of Polcat, a Doncaster safety training firm targeting the Polish employees market.

"I must admit it, I have never seen a workforce like the Poles," said Mr Owen. "They want to work, you can see it in their eyes. But here's the thing - they're not in competition with the British workforce - they are finding ways of fulfilling a need that just wasn't being met and that's why they are being welcomed."

Adam and Sandra from Poland
Adam and Sandra: Here for the long-term

While the first wave of eastern European workers went into construction and the food industry, people are increasingly looking at a more diverse range of careers.

Adam Pawlik, resident four months, had just been joined by his girlfriend Sandra Lewandowska.

Urbane and softly-spoken with a mid-Atlantic twang, Adam was typical of many of those now arriving.

"Office jobs," said Adam. "I was studying architecture before I came over - I actually want to go to university here eventually. So we're not desperate, we won't just take anything that we are offered."

So this is long-term?

"Yes absolutely. I just don't see any chances for us in Poland," said Adam. "Back home things are terrible. Do you know what a mess they have made of the place?

"We came here to look for a better future for us - perhaps for our kids one day," he added with a cheeky smile.

Sandra raised her eyebrows and ribbed him.

"In any case, we're planning to stay," she added.


Come back during this week for more stories about Eastern European migrant life in Britain.



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