Employers prefer workers from new EU states to 'lazy' Britons

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The Independent Online

Migrants workers from the new European Union states are filling jobs that indigenous UK workers are not prepared to do, but for much lower wages, new research shows today.

Three quarters of employers said they believed European enlargement two years ago had been good for business, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said.

A survey of 1,000 migrants and employers by the social policy research and development charity, found employers used highly qualified migrant workers for low-skilled and low-waged work. The findings will be seen as confirming the view of the Bank of England that immigration keeps down wage inflation by relieving labour shortages.

Employers said they valued migrant workers filling vacancies in low-skilled jobs, especially in the building, hospitality and agricultural sectors. Employers told the JRF they found that migrant workers were reliable compared with UK workers, whom some described as "lazy".

Workers from the countries that joined the EU on 1 May 2004 said that their working conditions had improved while those from Bulgaria and Ukraine, which are still outside the EU, said they had worsened.

Bridget Anderson, the head researcher, said that many migrant workers tolerated low-skilled work and poor conditions because the pay was significantly better than the wages in their own countries. "Sometimes they put up with negative aspects of their jobs in order to learn English or because conditions were only temporary," she said.

One employer told JRF: "It's a bit of a waste really, I've had doctors doing laddering work because it paid better than being a doctor back home."

Most of the migrant workers questioned, who were from Poland, Slovakia, Lithuania and the Czech Republic, were legally allowed to live in the UK, although some were working in breach of their immigration status. However one in five was illegally resident in the UK.

Most employers admitted to "bending the rules". One said: "There's times when you do twist it a bit [asking]: 'will you work an extra couple of hours', you know, 'nudge, nudge' and so on."

The JRF found that migrants earnings were low compared with the national average for their occupation, often close to the minimum wage. Across all sectors, migrants were working longer hours than average. None was in a trade union. A TUC spokesman said: "This survey confirms that migrants workers are exploited in a number of sectors. Unions need to step up their recruitment and government must do more to enforce legal standards."

John Philpott, chief economist at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, said: "Many employers are turning to migrants for their professional skills, technical skills and experience. The Polish plumber is not an urban myth but the norm."