A rate for the job

Some weeks ago I read a horror story about some Eastern Europeans working in the fields in the south-west of the England.

I guess in a way it was the usual story. They had paid money over in their home country for a trip to the UK in the hopes of finding the streets paved with gold. Or at least working hard and earning a decent living. Needless to state they ended up with little money, working long hours, housed in appalling accommodation (run-down caravans in this case), and scavenging in the fields for food.

It turned out the gangmaster had previously had his licence revoked, but he had been granted a stay of execution to sort himself out. Hardly a good recommend.

I got quite lost trying to work out how many subcontractors there were between the Eastern European pickers and the supermarket chains at the top. Nor could I work out where the added value was, apart from the fact that most people were able to deny responsibility or knowledge of this sad state of affairs due to the fact that there were so many different agencies involved.

Just to finish off that story, apparently the Gangmaster Licensing Authority ordered the gangmaster concerned to cease trading. Until the next time?

With this is mind I was discussing the situation of some Eastern European skilled tradesman working on the same site as my partner. They are working through a British agency apparently.

They were getting £5 an hour, a few quid less than Partner. And their contract was for a 60 hour week ie ten hours a day, Monday to Saturday, all at basic rate, with an unpaid half-hour lunch break.

“Terrible,” we muttered. “Slave labour for people with a skill. People are so greedy, the world is going backwards.”

At least if Partner wants to work overtime – when it’s available – he does get time and a half.

We talked about it again. They are getting their accommodation paid for, which is expensive in Gib. It’s in one of the cheaper hotels (although none of them are cheap in my view), so the agency guy must get a good deal on it. They get a food allowance as well apparently.

One of the guys told Partner he would have preferred a flat. I’ll bet. When I’ve rented apartments here for a few nights they are much dearer than cheap hotels.

So then we thought a bit harder. They are getting an appalling hourly rate even though they are skilled tradespeople, and there is a shortage of their particular trade here. They are contracted to work well over the legal maximum for weekly working hours – which as we all know can be exceeded with individual consent. Presumably this consent is on the lines of “You want the job or not?”

But they have no accommodation costs, so they only have to buy food and they get an allowance to go towards that. The rest they send home to their families.

One guy was chucking it in to go back to his wife. He figured he could do as well back there. But he didn’t rule out coming back.

In the end we couldn’t decide whether we thought they were being ripped off or not.

There is no way you could work on Partner’s wages and rent a property here at the going rate – or stay in a hotel. Let alone feed yourself, or me or the dog.

So if you look at it like that, they don’t have a bad deal.

They certainly have a better deal than the Eastern Europeans working in the fields in the UK that I mentioned earlier.

But I hate seeing skilled tradespeople getting the run-around. And being paid rubbish wages for long hours. While lots of agencies and sub-contractors get the cream.

Sources: The Guardian and Partner.

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