Migrant workers are feeling the freeze

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During the economic boom of the past decade, work for EU nationals was varied and plentiful.

Those arriving in Northamptonshire had their pick of dozens of logistics and manufacturing firms offering flexible hours and good pay.

Sales director Paul Glass of Echo Personnel, who has worked in recruitment in every town in the north of the county during the past 20 years, said that times have changed.

He said: “Since the recession started the workers coming here have to have more to offer an employer than ever before.

“It used to be that the standard of spoken English wasn’t really an issue, but now the labour market is flooded and employers can be much more choosy about who they take on.

“If you can’t speak English then you will struggle to get anything but the most menial of jobs.”

Tales of hundreds of thousands of economic migrants leaving the country are not accurate, Paul says. Although no official figures are available for the county, anecdotal evidence is that EU workers are not leaving the country in huge numbers, but fewer are arriving on our shores.

He said: “Twenty years ago there were no migrant workers on my books, but now at Echo I’d say it’s about 70/30 weighted towards immigrants.

“I haven’t noticed a massive amount going home but there are definitely fewer new registrations from foreign workers.

“There are fewer Poles than there were, but we are noticing a lot more people from Latvia as their economy has been through a hard time.

“Their education and level of spoken English isn’t as good as workers from other countries, though, so they are finding it really tough to get jobs.

“We are also getting more English men aged over 50 who have been made redundant.

“They are often highly skilled but there just aren’t similar jobs out there for them.

“Their expectations are so high but often they have to take jobs that they wouldn’t normally consider.

“I have a 60-year-old engineer who has been a production manager who is now driving a van for a living.”

Many migrant workers were used to yearly wage increases during the economic boom, but this stopped as soon as the recession hit.

“We haven’t given a pay rise to our workers for a few years now,” added Paul.

“We can’t go to the employers and ask them for more money because they simply can’t afford it.

“Like other workers, migrants are having to put up with a pay freeze while the cost of living rises.

“The only thing that has gone up is the minimum wage but that hasn’t affected all that many of our people.”

But Paul says it is not all bad news.

“Our permanent division has 26 vacancies at the moment. There is a glimmer of light on the horizon.”

One of the main difficulties for migrant workers is that they are often on temporary contracts, and when firms hit trouble, they are the first employees to be shown the door.”

When Argos Wincanton decided to shut the doors of its warehouse in Corby, 440 permanent staff were offered jobs at the new location in Magna Park, Leicester.

But an estimated 300 workers on temporary contracts, many of whom were migrants, were not even mentioned in the company’s official statement on the issue.

Unite Union regional officer Adrian Jones said at the time: “The situation for agency staff at Wincanton is unclear.

“We know that they are often the most vulnerable workers and that they may not have as many rights as other people working there.

“However, they are often not represented by a Union so their situation is even more precarious.

“Whether they will be given work at Magna Park has not been made clear to them.”