Today's Telegraph has a headline which activated my interest. It read 'Tesco hiring immigrants on the cheap, says Labour'. It seems that a Labour MP intends to make what's termed a 'keynote' speech tomorrow in which he intends to name Tesco and Next as being 'unscrupulous employers' and being 'guilty' of employing immigrant labour at rates lower than would be paid to British labour. I suppose this sort of talk feeds into the paranoia which surrounds the whole immigration debate. Anyway, its an issue that did once crop up in my experience. I will share it with you, dear reader - in a 'factual' rather than an 'opinionated' way.
Between 1999-2007, I represented Mid and West Wales in the National Assembly for Wales. Around ten years ago I was approached by several constituents, including councillors in one of the towns (not going to identify it) complaining about an influx of hundreds of Poles who were taking all the jobs of locals, and behaving in a threatening way, preventing local people being able to walk their own streets. I decided to raise these concerns with the local Police, and with two of the employers who were deemed 'guilty' of bringing all these Poles in. Let me share with you what I was told. Firstly, the Police. They had not received a single complaint, though people had discussed the issue with them. Its true that there were a lot of young men, sometimes loud and boisterous, outside pubs, in largish groups speaking in a foreign language, Polish. The Police told me there had not been any trouble at all. None.
My discussion with the employers was even more interesting. For years both had not been able to recruit enough dependable staff locally. The benefit system was encouraging potential employees to accept a job, and leave after a few days. The recruitment process was so costly, they both decided to enter into contract with an agency, which bussed in workers every day. For some reason (which I cannot recall) the agreement terminated, and a new agency was engaged, which sent nothing but Polish immigrants - lots of them. They were described as excellent workers, enthusiastic, committed and dependable. Far from costing less, they were actually more expensive than local employees. Both businesses were mostly employing labour at around minimum wage - but plus the agency fee for the Poles. Very soon, the Poles stopped being bussed in, and rented flats and houses locally. Generally they were said to be hard-working, family orientated, church-going with many keen to attend English language classes.
At the time, I thought the sudden influx of so many Polish workers all together may well cause trouble. It did not. I still think it would have been better if there had been some control on numbers at the time, but it was absolutely not true that local businesses were employing immigrants because they were 'unscrupulous employers'. Come to think of it, it was a Labour Gov't in power at the time. Brass necks come to mind.
And that's what I thought of when I read today's Telegraph article. Must admit I might have been influenced by an interest in the Second World War, and the suffering of the Polish nation on behalf of the allies. There may even actually be something in the 'keynote' speech I will definiely not be listening to, but I suspect that a lot of it will be b******.