Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Reasons to read the Grauniad

This week the Grauniad has been running a splendid series on the plight of migrant workers in the UK. Here's a taster:
the flexible labour market is so dominated by illegal activity that many of the new EU migrants have fallen into the same trap of unlawful wages and squalid living conditions despite their legal status.

The [Poles] were not employed directly by the factory that supplied Sainsbury's but subcontracted in a complex chain through a series of labour agencies. Extensive interviewing by the Guardian in other parts of the UK suggests that the case of these Poles is not particularly unusual. This is how many migrant workers find themselves when they come to England, whatever their legal status.

The house the Poles had been taken to, in an anonymously respectable cul-de-sac in a quiet Exeter suburb that forms part of the Labour minister Ben Bradshaw's constituency, was unremarkable outside. Inside there was no furniture, just mountains of rubbish, piles of syringes, soiled mattresses on the floor, and a terrible smell. They slept on the bare mattresses that night and were taken by the minivan to their 2-10pm shift the next day.

Twenty Poles were in the house the night the Guardian visited, 10 of whom were sleeping there, three and four to a small room, with the other 10 in another small house nearby. It was after 11pm and they had just been driven back from their late shift putting Sainsbury's chicken portions on plastic trays at the state-of-the-art Lloyd Maunder meat factory near Tiverton.

They said they had been threatened with eviction and loss of two weeks' wages by their gangmasters if they dared to tell anyone about their conditions. They had also been told they must be very quiet and not go out in groups or the police would come. They said they felt intimidated.
They had promised the minimum wage, £4.50, good accommodation for £25 per person per week, and lots of hours of overtime. But the Poles said it had gone wrong almost as soon as it started.

There had been no work and no wages in their first week in Southampton. They were told they would have to pay £40 rent each, although they were sleeping on the floor in the kitchen and in the sitting room. Then suddenly they had all been taken to Exeter in the night and left there. Their payslips showed that £40 was being deducted from each of their pay packets each week for rent although the legal maximum for those on the minimum wage is just under £25.

Even a cursory glance showed that there was something seriously wrong with their national insurance numbers - several of them had the same one. They were having tax deducted at the high emergency rate, though the tax office said it had not yet received payments for them.

After deductions their payslips showed they were getting just £115 a week for 40 hours. But this was not what the runners who brought their cash were actually giving them, they said. Another £15 was disappearing along the line without explanation.

Most of them had not registered with the Home Office because the £50 required to do so seemed an impossible amount when they were trying to survive and support families at home on so little money. By failing to do so, they had put themselves the on wrong side of the law.

Tadeusz had been a farrier in Poland, and had wanted to better himself, so he had given up his life-long job, never thinking he might regret it. Now he wanted to go home but could not yet afford the return fare.

Read the whole series of articles 1, 2, 3. Protest. Write to your MP.

  • Educate

  • Agitate

  • Organize

  • No comments: