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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 March 2008, 12:18 GMT
The 7-per-hour jobs locals don't want

By Tim Samuels

High wages have drawn scores of Eastern Europeans to at least one corner of England. But not everyone welcomes this new workforce even if unemployed locals themselves refuse to do the same jobs.

A slice of today's British countryside. Giant butternut squash nestle in the ground waiting to be plucked and dispatched to satisfy gastropub tastes. Half a dozen workers trudge behind a tractor bending down to pick and load the squash. And the only person in the field who's British is the bloke driving the tractor. The rest are all from Eastern Europe.

The crew of Latvians, Lithuanians and a Pole includes a former nurse who's earning four times what she was making in the hospital back home. It's monotonous, physical work with 60-hour weeks, but no-one's complaining - or taking a tea break.

"I earn 2,000 a month"
The TV translation says it all
"It's wonderful here," says Mariusz, fresh in from Poland.

A dream workforce for the farmer surveying the workers toiling on his land outside Peterborough. "We have a job to get anyone else to do the work."

He has all but given up on using locals to work in the fields. "They don't work as hard."

In fact, they barely work in the fields at all. The agency supplying this farm with labour has had hundreds of Eastern Europeans pass through its doors in the last two years - and all of three English people.

"We've a job to get anybody else to do the work," says farmer Cam Allan. "The rates of pay are above minimum wage. It's just finding the people to do this type of work we've got."

The agricultural sector would be in dire straits without the immigrants willing to do the hard graft on the land. Labour which can net workers up to 25,000-a-year with overtime.

'Prefer to sign-on'

But that's not enough to entice some of the local lads picking up their dole money in Peterborough. A constant trickle of young men are in and out of the office collecting their state benefits. But there's little appetite for taking one of those vegetable-picking jobs of up to 7-an-hour. One group of lads:

Local man
Job for 7 an hour - "I prefer to sign on than do that"
"No mate I'd prefer to sign-on than do that."

"I don't want to work in like no cornfield."

"I don't want to work with a load of foreigners."

Another lad is picking up his last benefits cheque. He's just got a job after 12 months of searching. "I think because of all the foreigners" he says. "I know people don't like it, but I've never had trouble getting a job before. I've been going for jobs and they've got over 200 people applying for them."

The massive influx of Eastern Europeans may be keeping parts of the economy afloat, but is there a social cost?

Britain has experienced its biggest wave of migration in centuries in recent years. No-one really knows how many Eastern Europeans have come to Britain. The official figure is 800,000.

One in 10

A fair few have ended up in Peterborough - enticed by the demand for farming and factory work. Immigrants now make up around one in 10 of the city's population. Some locals say Peterborough is creaking under the pressure.

Hema Patel
They should put a stop to immigration totally
Hema Patel
Charles Swift has been a local councillor for 55 years. As leader of the city council in the early 1970s, he agreed to house Asian families who had been forcibly expelled from Uganda - prompting National Front pickets against him.

But the councillor feels this latest influx has gone too far - with not enough government money to recognise the real scale and impact of the recent immigration.

He points out the local GP surgery which has received a thousand immigrant patients in the last six months and a primary school coping with 24 languages.

"The ordinary chappie in the street, if you stop and talk to them, they're right pig-sick, fed up to the teeth. They can see standards deteriorating all the way round and they repeatedly say to you 'enough is enough Charles. We've had enough of it'."

Putting down roots

Resident Hema Patel agrees. "They should put a stop to immigration totally," she says "...whether they be Europeans, from the Far East, whatever. And they should sort out the problems now."

The local farmers and factory owners would say Peterborough hasn't had enough of it. They're still short of labour. But with immigration it's hard to see beyond the particular impact it's having on your immediate life - and that impact will be very different between a boss trying to keep his business afloat and someone whose street has become a magnet for immigrants.

What's striking in Peterborough is how many of the recent migrants are actually here for the long haul - and not just a year of two to make some money and head home

In a church hall, a Polish politician addresses a room full of his countrymen - seeing whether any might be tempted back home to a country now short of workers.

Out of the whole room, only one Pole says she is considering going back home. The rest are here to stay.

One young mother says, "I've a flat here now and my children are with me. They're at school and have made friends here. So I couldn't go back to Poland now - even if the situation there improved very quickly."

The Poles are Coming will be broadcast on Tuesday, 11 March at 2100 GMT on BBC Two.

Below is a selection of your comments.

So, there's good workers, workers who seem are very hard working and willing to work, pay their taxes which in turn go into schools, surgeries, etc. Then you've got people that are unemployed, willing to take money from the state and like to moan a lot. Which group are having a more detrimental effect on the community? I just feel that dressing this up as an immigration issue is just an excuse for people to be racist, and the 'general public' are only parroting what the media has fed them without really having thought about it.
Jen, Brighton

I recently resigned from a job of 9 years because of the immigration problems. Out of the 33 staff I was responsible for, 28 were either Polish or Lithuanian. Only one could speak English, the rest I had to speak to through a translator. This was something I had neither the time or energy to do. It was also a health and safety risk, as they couldn't read the warning signs on the machines we worked with. If they can't speak English, they shouldn't be allowed in our country. And what can Poland and Lithuania offer any Brit in need of a job? Absolutely nothing! Sort it Gordon Brown
David Thompson, Workington, Cumbria

I have no problem with immigration per se, and indeed feel that Britain has been stronger for it, particularly after the wars. However, I agree in part with the comment in the article from Hema Patel. We need to stop the flow, at least for now, and shore things up, fix the things that are breaking, and make it better for people here now. That way we can make it a better place for people in the future, both born and raised and immigrant alike. If a water pipe is leaking you don't keep pumping water through it. You stop the water further up the pipe, carry out repairs and then let it come back through when the pipe is strong enough again. We don't have to stop immigration forever, but we clearly do need to stop, analyse what is happening and where it will take us and fix things that need to be fixed now
Paul Manley, Cardiff

Its always the government supplied services - health, education and transport mainly - that seem to have difficulty with increased demand due to immigration. How come pubs, supermarkets, and other private suppliers are not having the same problems? Do immigrants not eat or drink? Or perhaps the bureaucrats just can't be bothered to do their job, and provide services in the quality and quantity that is demanded.
Robert, London

There should be no option if you are fit and on the dole work or no money, the whole system needs shaking up to make it easier to work for a few weeks then go back on the dole. I think half the problem is the governments. If you find seasonal work often the difficulties getting back on to the dole especially if you have a family is a real issue. So yes there should
Ian Turner, Redruth Cornwall

Its the same problem that we have here in the US. There are jobs that are vacant and pay well. However, people don't want to take them because they are labor jobs. If we were to stop immigration and crack down on illegal workers, a huge part of our economy would shut down. We wouldn't have the goods we enjoy at cheap prices. Not to mention the undesirable duties that keep a city going would be non existent. No one stops to think about the people that pick the fruit that eat everyday or about the people that clean up parks and other public spaces. If those workers weren't here, then who would fill those jobs? Not the people that feel entitled to make twice that much with benefits.
Jennifer Johnson, Austin, Texas, US

7 an hour and they'd rather sign on - If they are fit and well then their benefits should be stopped - they will have to work then.
Julian, Leeds, England

I'm 53, a fully qualified mechanic. I'm employed but fear my company may close. I've worked hard and continually since the age of 16. If my company closes I'll have to look for another job. At my age I'll be lucky. All the jobs are being taken up by foreigners.
Andrew Lewis, Newport W/Wales

7 per hour does not equate to 25k a year, particularly if the work is only seasonal. It's against working time regulations to expect anyone to work 60 hour weeks without tea breaks. The writer must be living in some Victorian reality writing such a biased article suggesting the locals should be happy with such work. Perhaps it is not enough to live on. Perhaps some locals would be happy to work 60 hour weeks abroad where the salary equated to, say 70k in local wages, where the employers would probably then call the locals lazy.
b sensible, london

Why are we giving benefit cheques to able-bodied men in this country while there are jobs to be done? They don't want to work, and instead receive our taxes; We don't want to work for them and give them our taxes!
Gareth Davies, Swansea, Wales


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