Glimpse into lives of European workers

PUBLISHED: 10:22 22 September 2006 | UPDATED: 12:02 04 May 2010

Iuliia and Barbara at their dormitory at G’s hostel, with group personnel manager Sharon Cross - Pic: Helen Drake

Iuliia and Barbara at their dormitory at G's hostel, with group personnel manager Sharon Cross - Pic: Helen Drake

MP Malcolm Moss sparked fierce debate recently when he suggested a number of towns in East Cambridgeshire are on the brink of immigration meltdown, and warned that communities will suffer if the influx of migrant workers continues unabated. Mr Moss s view

MP Malcolm Moss sparked fierce debate recently when he suggested a number of towns in East Cambridgeshire are on the brink of immigration meltdown, and warned that communities will suffer if the influx of migrant workers continues unabated.

Mr Moss's views provoked a backlash from officials, who pointed to the benefits that foreign workers bring to the local economy, and rubbished his claims that former Eastern Bloc workers are favoured by employers and the provision of public housing.

IAN RAY visited G's Marketing, where hundreds of eastern European youngsters carry out a range of work at the vegetable grower's Barway site, to get a glimpse into the lives of these workers.

FOR 15 years, Sharon Cross at G's has overseen a scheme that has seen thousands of youngsters from Lithuania, Muldovia, Ukraine, Bulgaria and Poland take up jobs at the Barway site for stays of around 14 weeks.

All of the workers are students from agricultural universities in eastern Europe, and the temporary positions they fill enable them to earn money to support their studies while gaining first-hand experience in an industry that many of them plan to join when they have completed their degrees. The advantage to G's, of course, is that the students represent a reliable workforce to carry out the strictly seasonal work the company requires.

"We need people for a six month window intensively," said managing director Kier Petherick.

"It's difficult to recruit these kind of workers locally because the work is so seasonal - these workers are essential for our business. We need a huge amount of guys here."

The students work across the company, planting crops, harvesting and carrying out work in the factories. Some of them assist with administration work, where they are invaluable in breaking down the language barrier.

Sharon Cross, group personnel manager, believes the scheme is of great benefit to the local community.

"For every two of our casual workers, we can employ one permanent employee from the local area, so they sustain us," she said.

"We have about 2,000 people here a year - if you think that each one of them is spending money in the local area, and we spend £300,000 a year on the local bus company for the students, £1.3 million a year with other local businesses, £30,000 for the local butcher, then it all adds up."

Mr Petherick added: "These guys are all paying national insurance and tax. We've worked out that our students here are worth about £1.2 million to our Government."

On arrival, each student joins five others in a dormitory at G's purpose-built hostel, where a laundry service and meals are provided. In just one week, 500 students are taken in, before they take part in a one-day induction programme that includes health and safety training and a brief medical. Each student is then registered with a local doctor and The Royal Bank of Scotland sets up a bank account and cashcard for each of them.

It is difficult not to be impressed with the facilities provided for the youngsters, which are also used by the permanent staff; a recently-built social centre houses a gym, a fully-licensed bar, tennis courts, basketball courts, pool tables and an internet cafe for students to keep in contact with friends and family.

Regular excursions are also organised to London and Alton Towers theme park.

It is hoped that a half-Olympic size pool will be completed later this year which will be heated by an on-site self-sustaining power system, which currently provides electricity for the entire site by burning waste cardboard and plastic.

Learning is encouraged through electronic resources that allow students to improve their English and pick up skills such as health and safety training, and Mr Petherick said the scheme has developed in such a way that both parties benefit.

"The average monthly wage for a key worker in these countries is 180 dollars, but our target here is £240 a week, and they can earn up to £500 a week. When I was a student, it would be like somebody employing you for £1,500 a week to cut lettuce," he said.

Pavel Zeleniuk, a 20-year old economics student, was due to return to the Ukraine the following day.

"I lived here and it was good," he said.

"I will continue my studies when I get home and I will come again next year.

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