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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 June, 2005, 10:40 GMT 11:40 UK
Here to stay?
By Denise Winterman
BBC News Magazine

Polish workers
The UK's army of Polish workers have built up a reputation for reliability and fair prices. But while the nation has fallen in love with them, are they here to stay?

A year on from Poland joining the European Union and much of the UK appears to be in a full-blown love affair with the nation.

The country's army of Polish workers have built up a reputation for quality, reliability and fair prices since becoming officially eligible to work in the UK last May.

While not everyone's happy with the idea of foreign workers undercutting prices, Poles are considered a godsend by homeowners used to bemoaning the impossibility of finding a good builder or plumber.

For firms around the country - from Tesco to bus company Arriva North-East - they have solved staff shortages and plugged skills gaps.

But unlike many previous waves of migrant workers entering the UK, most Poles are not planning to build a life here. For them working in the UK is a stepping stone to building a better life back home.

Poland is what I know, what I love and where I will return
Gregory Staczek
Polish chef turned labourer

"The majority of Poles who have come here since last May plan to go home after a few years," says Dr Jan Mokrzycki, president of the Federation of Poles in Great Britain.

"Working in the UK is way for them to change their futures in Poland. Most people there have little money and few opportunities to earn it. The cash they save in the UK can transform their lives back home. They are just seizing opportunities that up until now have not been available to them."

Since joining the EU, more than 98,000 Poles have signed the government's register of migrant workers. Fewer than 30 claim benefits, according to the Home Office.

And while 34,255 have settled in London, the Polish influx is not restricted to the capital. More than 27,000 are registered in East Anglia, 17,000 in the Midlands and 12,000 in the South West alone.

Independent

Most are driven by the economic opportunities Poland's EU membership offers. This is especially true of 18-to-34 year olds, who make up 82% of all those registered for work over here.

Up until now most have been forced to live with their parents - even when they marry - due to a lack of cash. Many plan to use their new wealth to break this Polish tradition.

"Back home unemployment is high and if you have a job wages are really low," says Adrianna Szymanski, 26, who has been working in London for 10 months as a nanny after travelling over from the northern town of Miedzyzdroje.

POLES AROUND UK
London 34,255
Anglia 27,720
Central 18,255
Midlands 17,100
South East 13,820
South West 12,170
Scotland 10,375
North West 9,830
North East 8,780
NI 5,370
Wales 2,510
Source: Home Office

"Most young people live at home, even when they get married, because they have no money to move out. We now have a chance to change that.

"My home town is beautiful and I plan to return. Me and my friends are here to make as much money as we can so we can go home and start independent lives we would never be able to afford otherwise."

With the average wage in Poland just 2 an hour, migrant workers are earning up to 10 times as much as they would at home, especially those who are skilled. A bricklayer who would earn roughly 3,000 a year in Poland can get over 30,000 in the UK.

Trade unions in the UK have welcomed them, saying they are filling gaps in the labour market, but they question whether it's the right solution.

Claire Ainsley, of the Transport and General Workers' Union, says: "Our only note of caution is that employers are doing all they can to recruit and retain staff wherever they're from. Companies have to deal with the issues that are causing them to have recruitment problems in the first place."

Exploited

Construction is one such industry which has benefited from the new labour markets in Eastern Europe.

"I work as a chef in Poland but earn much more working as a labourer on building sites here," says Gregory Staczek, 27, from Krakow.

"Poland is what I know, what I love and where I will return. Life can be hard but if you have a little money you can have a much better lifestyle than in the UK. I work hard here and save so in a few years I will be able to go back with some money. It is the same for all my friends over here, I think most Polish workers ultimately want to go back."

But not all of them have found the transition easy or profitable.

"While most Poles have settled in the UK happily, a small minority are being abused and exploited," says Dr Mokrzycki.

A polish woman
Budget flights to the UK are advertised in Polish cities

"They are being paid low wages or thrown off jobs with no pay at all. They have saved to come here and are going back to Poland with nothing."

But for most of those who have made the successful transition, their intention to return to Poland will not be an issue for a few years.

"Poles have only been able to work over here legally for a year so their claims to want to eventually go home have not been put to the test," says Ania Heasley, director of recruitment agency, Ania's Poland.

"In a few years time we will know if it is happening or not. The longer they are here, the more settled they will be and they will get better jobs. It might be hard to turn their backs on that."




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