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   Inside Out - South: Monday November 13, 2006

Warsaw-on-Sea

Poles leaving for UK c/o Getty Images
High hopes - Polish workers leave Warsaw for the UK. Getty Images

It's thought that one in 10 of the population of Southampton is Polish, a figure often quoted by MP John Denham.

Inside Out sets out to challenge a few of the preconceptions being banded about about this new migrant workforce.

Six hundred thousand people have come from the eight accession nations which joined the EU in May 2004… but those are the official figures.

So what's the real story?

One idea Inside Out sets out to look at is - are Eastern Europeans really doing jobs we don't want to do, or are they taking jobs from Brits?

The programme's road trip, with man-in-a-van Ashley Blake, finds Eastern Europeans all over the country.

Economic boon

Some economists estimate that migrant workers are worth as much as half a billion to the economy and that they're actually propping it up by getting jobs done here in industries which otherwise would go abroad.

The idea being, if we can't get our fruit and veg picked cheaply enough to make it a competitive price when it goes to market, we'd end up importing it... probably from Poland.

The former Director General at the CBI, Sir Digby Jones, says without this migrant workforce the country simply wouldn't function.

Interest rates would go up and wage inflation would price some British industries out of the market.

In Southampton nine coaches arrive every week from Poland, dropping off a new workforce who've travelled for 36 hours across Europe to work for the minimum wage, which for someone over 21 is £5.35 an hour.

Influx of workers

Poland Fact File


Location: Situated in the centre of Europe.

Economy: High unemployment and generally low incomes. Large huge farming sector. Poverty is widespread in rural areas.

EU status: Became an EU member in May 2004, 15 years after the end of communist rule.

Poland's population is 38.5 million (UN, 2005).

The capital city is Warsaw.

Main language - Polish.

Main religion - Christianity.

Major exports are machinery, foodstuffs and chemicals.

Key phrases:
Tak - Yes
Nie - No
Witamy - Welcome
Czesc - Hello

Listen to the BBC audio guide to Polish

The Polish workers are happy to do the jobs that English workers don't want to do for a price that many locals would find unacceptable.

The minimum wage alone means the city's streets are paved with gold.

But some English workers resent the newcomers from abroad, especially those working in the construction industry.

Inside Out meets Andy Kirby who set up his own building business three years ago.

Until recently he had 60 satisfied clients, and was a member of the Guild of Master Craftsmen.

But Kirby says that he can't compete with Polish rates.

His fledgling company is about to fold under the competition:

"I've gone back and had a look at the figures… it's quite sickening. No one will employ me - I'm too expensive."

Plugging the gaps

Many employers see the Eastern European migrant workers as a way of filling jobs that others don't want to do in the south.

Derek and Lukas are currently working as caretakers - the school says that it looked for workers but just couldn't get the staff.

Kevin Mills from the school says that the migrant workers are a real asset:

"We struggled to find a caretaker…

"They're very good and they're still here. They are doing a great job."

In Poland a teacher earns £200 a month - these caretakers take home the same amount in just four days.

It's easy to understand the lure of Southampton for these Poles and the growing army of eastern European migrants.

Life in Reading

And Inside Out also takes a look at the old Polish community in Reading, and the impact the recent influx of Polish immigrants has had on them.

Father Jerzy Januszkiewicz says some of the older population, "are a little bit suspicious of the new ones, and those that have just come say they are not welcome.

"But it's not true. We have to take time to know one another."

The Polish community in the town has gone from 1,000 to an estimated 10,000.

Have your say...

Join the debate - email our Inside Out England message board in English or Polish and we will publish your comments.

Email insideout@bbc.co.uk

We want your comments and experiences. How do old Poles feel about the new Poles?

What are the concerns and worries of old and new Poles?

And what's happening to the economy and fellow workers back in Poland?

How hard or easy is it to find well paid jobs in the south of England?

And if you're a local worker, what are your views on the influx of foreign workers?

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