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Case Study: Polish Plumbers
On 1st May 2004, 10 new members joined the EU. Eight of these, known as the A8, came from Central and Eastern Europe, the biggest of these being Poland, with a population of about 38.5 million. The UK already has a significant Polish minority, the descendants of the Free Poles who had fought on the allied side of the war and who had not decided not to go back to a Communist Poland. In the 2001 census, there were nearly 61,000 people who had been born in Poland, with a third of these living in London (BBC, ND). With their descendants, they made up a population of Polish ancestry of about a quarter of a million.
Under the EU rules on free movement, people from the A8 countries had the right to come from other EU countries, but this did not necessarily extend to the right to work. As part of the accession arrangements, the 15 ‘old’ EU countries had the right to impose these restrictions on work for A8 citizens for up to seven years. Only Sweden allowed A8 citizens an unrestricted right to work. The UK and Ireland granted them the right to work but no unemployment benefit until they had worked continuously for a year.
It was forecast at the time of accession that 13,000 A8 workers a year would come to the UK. However, this has proven to be a gross underestimate. Denis MacShane, who was Europe minister at the time, claimed that the original figure was based on all 15 old EU members opening their doors to A8 workers (MacShane, 2006).
Although it is clear that many more A8 workers particular Poles, are working in the UK than originally thought, nobody really knows how many. As Poles and other A8 citizens can enter the EU without a visa, there is no way of telling how many of those who enter the country intends to work and how many are just passing through. The Office for National Statistics carries out random interviews on arrivals to the UK and on this basis estimates that 56,000 Poles entered the UK to work in 2005. However, the Department for Work and Pensions says that 170,000 Poles applied for National Insurance numbers in 2005 (Doward and McKenna 2007).
The other main source of information on numbers is the Worker Registration Scheme (WRS), which under the A8 workers are encouraged to register. This is not compulsory, is not required for the self-employment and costs £75. There is no requirement to deregister if a worker leaves the UK. In May 2005, the BBC reported that 176,000 had registered by March 2005. Of these, 82 per cent were aged between 18 and 34, 96 per cent working full time and a third may have been working illegally in the UK before accession and merely regularising their position. Poland was the biggest provider, with 56 per cent of the total, followed by Lithuania with 15 per cent and Slovakia with 11 per cent (BBC, 2005a). This is not surprising, as Poland had by far the biggest population of the A8 countries; it had 20 per cent unemployment, wages one sixth of those in the UK and a well educated population, many of them whom spoke English.
In January 2007, 579,000 had registered under the WRS, of who 63 per cent were from Poland. The anti-immigration pressure group claimed that this was an underestimate and that the true figure was nearer 600,000. Although they admitted that many of these will have left the country (Migration Watch, 2007). By December 2007 the number registered had increased to 750,000 (House of Lords, 2008) and by 2009 the number had just over 1 million (Travis, 2010). However, this is a gross figure. Many are seasonal agricultural workers who come to the UK every summer and re-register.
Some figures are also available from the Polish end of immigration. In 2004, the year of accession, there are fewer movements of Poles out of the country than in 2003 (27.2 million compared with 38.6 million) (Iglicka, 2005). However, there is no way of telling how many of these are going out of Poland to work or, perhaps, on day trips to Germany or the Czech Republic. What may be significant; however, is that the number of those leaving by air increased by 37 per cent in 2004 to 1.89 million. Official immigration in 2004 was also lower than in 2003, and only 543 Poles officially emigrated to the UK, compared to 12,646 to Germany.
Rumours and urban myth abound about the number of Poles in the UK. There are said to be 10,000 in Slough, 15,000 in Boston, Lincolnshire, 3000 in Crew (Doward and McKenna, 2007). According to the 2011 census, about 7000 of Boston’s population of 64,600 came from the A8 countries plus Romanian, well below the 15,000 suggested. This has put considerable pressure on local infrastructure such as housing and schools, although it has also been pointed out that the local maternity unit would have been closed but for the extra demand from eastern European births (Pidd, 2012).
Remember also that despite the myths, most Polish and other A8 immigrants are not plumbers. Among the A8 immigrants, 24 per cent work in distribution, hotels and restaurants, 21 per cent in manufacturing, 14 per cent in construction, and a significant but understated proportion in agriculture and food processing (House of Lords, 2008, p18).
The plain truth is nobody really has any idea how many Poles are working in Britain. Latest estimates are that up to 1 million Poles may have left Poland, although they have not all come to the UK (Barrell et al, 2007). If, say, third have come to the UK, this makes about 400,000. It is thought that most Polish and other A8 workers come to the UK with every intention of going back to Poland and, unlike other immigrant groups, going back is very easy and cheap, £10 on a Ryanair flight. When questioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation immediately after the accession, only 6 per cent said they intended to stay in the UK permanently. A year later, this had risen to 29 per cent (Spencer et al, 2007). In September 2007, 62 per cent of those arriving in the previous 12 months said they intended to stay for less than one year (House of Lords, 2008), although the experience of other immigrant groups suggests that more will stay than initially expected to.
With the onset of the recession in 2008, many Polish workers returned to Poland, which was the only country in the EU to experience positive economic growth in 2009, 12,000 more Poles left the UK than entered (Pidd, 2011). In May 2011, Germany also opened its borders to Polish workers, as the transition period greed in 2004 came to an end. It is expected that up to 1 million Poles may emigrate to Germany (Hall et al, 2011).
The situation became clearer by 2011. The Office for National Statistics announced that the UK had 545,000 Polish –born residents in 2010, the biggest foreign-born national group (ONS, 2011). Of these, 86 per cent were of working age, 80 per cent were in work and unemployment was 5.5 per cent. Corresponding figures for the UK as a whole were 60 per cent, 70 per cent and 7.8 per cent. The 2011 Census figure for people born in Poland was 579,000 (BBC News, 2012).
Your report is expected to cover the following issues:
Discuss what do you think is the likely economic and social impact of the influx of Polish and other A8 workers into the UK?
Why was there such a high level of immigration from Poland to the UK after 2004?
Your answer should present a balanced mixture of theory and practice and refer to practical organisational examples.