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Are Polish Workers Raining on their own Parade?

We have been using Polish workers for more than 6 years being one of the very first Companies to take a view on bringing in Polish workers when it was next to impossible to find locals to work.

Whilst we trade nationally our base is in Somerset and when the option of using Polish recruitment opened up Somerset’s unemployment rate was less than 2% the closest you are ever likely to get to fill employment in a developed market.

Our first experiment saw us bringing in 80 Eastern Europeans workers to work in a manufacturing plant in Devon for the season lasting 5-6 months and the Polish workers simply shone:

  • Well educated, in fact in most cases ridiculously over qualified, you certainly got a free brain with every employee.
  • Industrious, reliable and flexible – a dream to manage
  • Grateful for the opportunity and interested in doing a good job for you.
  • Very supportive of each other

As an industrialist turned recruiter it seemed we had found the magic bullet. It came through in corporate results with more than one client saying they got productivity/efficiency/yield gains of 20% and it was a complete pleasure to help hundreds of Poles into the UK from 2005-7.

Quality began to slip about that time

  • The first wave had done a couple of years had made enough money to go back home often buying a flat from the money they had made.
  • If drinking was an Olympic sport the Poles would be champions and whilst isolated incidents of drink fueled stupidity had occurred the situation got worse.
  • Around this time Polish workers stated to get their own flats, the vast majority were fine but try explaining recycling procedures to the average Pole and you get a blank look. Noise, drunkenness, untidiness irritated the neighbours.
  • The first round of Poles introduced friends and family including those that hadn’t worked in Poland for years and had similar work ethic to some of our home grown “talent.”
  • It was towards the end of this phase that the “benefits” specialists started to turn up. Not their fault but the EU’s regulations that they learnt to maximise quickly.

An odd bad apple is inevitable and we got away lightly compared to some of our competition because we had tighter controls but were forced to step these up by saying

  • A clear Police check was mandatory (A simple version of our CRB)
  • We would only take people who were either working or had been out of work for less than 6 months

But still the quality fell so in 2008 we decided that we would look more towards filling skills gaps rather than bulk roles in things like picking and packing. It was also noticeable that the camaraderie of the early years had disappeared and it is true that some Poles relished the misfortune that overtook their fellow countrymen and became very selfish.

The recession hit later that year and whilst the down turn was gradual the characteristics of the market place changed. Lack of overall demand allowed our clients to pick and chose.

  • Ability to speak English at Intermediate level or better became the norm. Some clients would only take fluent English speakers
  • The ability for Poles to job hop disappeared but episodes of stupidity, usually fuelled by alcohol, still occurred and we had to sack quite a few for drink or drug breaches of contract.
  • Temporary labour took the brunt of the downturn and 2010 saw the number of Poles decline but not by the numbers suggested by some commentators.

It is a huge shame as just like football fans the vast majority of Polish workers are besmirched by the actions of the few.

The recent report of criminal activity by Poles in the UK was not put in context of the relative crime rate.In absolute it looked bad and made a good negative headline for the press. However, the Polish community in the UK is in danger of scoring an own goal unless they collectively clean up their act and drop some of the unpleasant British attitudes they have picked up.

Skilled Polish workers like, welders, fabricators, CNC operators, Engineers and Care workers remain in demand but have to be rigorously screened to weed out the likely poor performers and this is where the selection of your international recruitment agency is key.

If they tell you everything in the garden is rosy, don’t believe them and make your own investigations but carefully selected Polish workers are first class workers.

So let’s try and keep a bit of perspective.


Author: Chris Slay

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