Eastern European builders and their influence over the construction sector

Zidar in Anglia
Zidar in Anglia

European Union enlargement which has started in 2014 when the A8 countries joined the EU (Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia) gave the British construction firms and contractors access to a large number of highly skilled and low paid workers from Eastern Europe.

By the time A2 countries (Bulgaria and Romania) in 2014 had their work restriction lifted off by United Kingdom, the Eastern European builders had a mixed reputation.

The home owners and building companies who employed workers from Eastern Europe countries were more than happy with their work ethics ,but at the same time there was a backlash from the native construction work force, who they feel that the extra competition from cheaper and sometimes harder workers exercised on the construction market.

The impact lead to calls for immigration to be curtailed, the Polish plumber and the Romanian builders suddenly became a derogatory name, and those employing Eastern European workers – exploiting, selfish and unpatriotic employers.

During the Brexit campaign, right wing politicians used the argument that cheap access to workers from Eastern Europeans means a race to the bottom and lower wages for British workers. Soon enough, the Eastern European workers were either stealing jobs from the British indigenous population or lived on social benefits.

When in May 2017, construction firms issued a warning that new housing and infrastructure project could be in peril over a shortage of bricklayers, carpenters, plumbers and other skilled construction workers from Eastern Europe, their warnings passed unnoticed.

The drop in value of the pound, combined with inflation and an undercurrent of hostility towards the migrant workers as a result of a toxic political campaign, showed net long-term immigration falling in 2016 below a quarter of a million for the first time in nearly three years.

Brian Berry, of the Federation of Master Builders, said Eastern European labour was “a vital part” of a workforce suffering growing skills shortages.
“Nowhere is this truer than in London, where migrant workers make up nearly half of the industry’s workforce,” he said.
“Over the last decade, those workers have typically been coming in from Eastern European countries. While it’s too early to say for sure whether these latest figures demonstrate a permanent reversal of this trend, there is a concern that they do.”

Sean McKee, at London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said: “This leads to serious questions about how we can build the houses we so desperately need as well as a supporting infrastructure to remain a competitive global city.”

If the owner of Travis Perkins and CEO of Wickes thinks that Eastern European workers are good for firms and the economy, the same cannot be said about the public opinion :

We have so many youngsters who have never worked, we’ve got them doing odd days here and there via agencies with no real prospects,we should encourage them into real employment with real apprenticeships in construction turning out skilled well paid productive members of our society.Now companies should start training our own young people.

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