By Jonathan Moules
The use of migrant workers to fill holes in the British employment market shows no sign of abating.
A quarter of employers intend to hire migrant workers this winter, according to the latest quarterly survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.
Many employers subscribe to the view that eastern Europeans, and Poles in particular, have a strong work ethic, according to John Philpott, the CIPD’s chief economist. But he added that few employers hire migrant workers as a cheap form of labour.
“If you have a bigger number of migrant workers there tends to be a knock on effect on other employees to raise their game,” Mr Philpott said.
Language skills do not tend to be a problem, but business owners should make sure that the workers they are getting have accredited skills, according to Mr Philpott.
They should also ask themselves whether workers have places to live that are convenient for work, he added.
Almost 300,000 east Europeans have applied to work in Britain since May last year when their nations joined the European Union, according to the Home Office.
Most of these are Poles. The actual numbers are likely to be much higher since official figures only record migrant workers that pay the £70 registration fee.
Only Britain, Ireland and Sweden gave unrestricted access to eastern Europeans after enlargement. However, the UK absorbed almost three times the combined number of workers that went to Ireland and Sweden.
The flow of these workers to the UK is likely to ease as other EU countries lift restrictions on those from the newest member states working in their markets.
Mr Philpott said: “It won’t be that employers will turn to migrant workers en masse. But we as a nation have turned from net exporters of labour to net importers.”
The Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), which represents agencies supplying east European workers, is working with its Polish counterpart to provide an approved code of conduct for its members.
Tom Hadley, of the REC, said companies should stick with agencies registered with his body or its equivalent in other countries.
“Most of the really negative stories you hear about EU enlargement and the exploitation of labour are about businesses that we wouldn’t recognise as employment agencies. They are almost criminal gangs.”
Legitimate agencies will have a responsibility to check the documentation and identity of candidates. For those that want to check the validity of other EU driving licences themselves, information is available on the website www.direct.gov.uk in the motoring section under the heading, Driving in GB on a Foreign Licence.
Poland is a common choice for drivers although Malta is gaining in popularity, according to Mr Hadley. “The Maltese have the advantage of already driving on the left,” he notes.