2006-12-12 01:31:56 UTC
A GROUP of skilled craftsmen working on an NHS project have been sacked and
their jobs given to migrant Polish workers.
The 16 glaziers were axed from a hospital construction site even though one
had just won an award for his dedication and professionalism.
Polish workers are now in the jobs, leaving the sacked men to claim they are
victims of cheap EU labour flooding into the UK.
One of the glaziers had been told he could look forward to another three
years on the project. But two months ago, 30 Poles were employed on the site
and last week Martin Kelly and his colleagues were dumped on the dole, just
Mr Kelly, 40, who has two young sons, says he had paid the price of being a
"British worker on a British wage".
The sackings come weeks after experts said migrants from Eastern Europe were
to blame for UK unemployment soaring to its highest for seven years.
Since the expansion of the EU two years ago, thousands of workers from
countries such as Poland have come to Britain and been taken on by firms
seeking to slash costs.
There is rising concern that Romanian and Bulgarian workers will pour into
the UK after those countries join the EU on January 1. Even well-paid East
Europeans earn a pittance in UK terms - the average salary in Poland is
£4,700 a year.
Yesterday, Mr Kelly, who has not been out of work since he left school, said
he was shattered at the prospect of telling his sons he was on the dole.
When he was taken on by contractors at the site in Manchester, he was told
his £38,000-a-year job was likely to last until 2010.
He was given a health and safety award by a construction company for his
skill operating a tower crane putting cladding on the new state-of-the-art
hospital in the city centre.
Mr Kelly, from Stockport, said: "I've worked hard all my life but now I've
been got rid of for one reason - I'm a British worker in Britain on a
British wage but I'm more expensive than someone in Poland.
"I've also voted Labour all my life but I'll never vote for them again. Tony
Blair is letting people like me down. A lot of us are family men who now
have to go back and tell them just before Christmas that we've been fired."
The hospital is being built for the NHS by Bovis Lend Lease, which has
sub-contracted some of the work, including the cladding, to Dutch firm
Scheldebouw employed the 16 glaziers. Bovis confirmed their contracts had
been terminated. It said the Polish glaziers had been hired two months
earlier and insisted they were skilled and "paid in line" with other workers
The 16 sacked Britons would be replaced by men who "may be Poles or may be
British - that is up to Scheldebouw".
No one at Scheldebouw or NHS North West was unavailable for comment.
Officials from the sacked men's union, UCATT, are due to meet bosses from
Bovis and Scheldebouw today.
MigrationWatch UK said: "If Poles find themselves facing low wages in their
own country, they are all the more likely to come to Britain, where wages
are four or five times more."
Tory MP David Davies said the sackings "demonstrate the folly of Britain's
immigration policy". He added: "It makes me mad to see anyone lose their
jobs two weeks before Christmas. How are they going to feed their families?
"It also angers me that the Government claim we need all these migrant
workers for their skills.
"Well, clearly, we had the skills already, in the form of these British
workers who have now been sacked.
"Economically it makes no sense either as British people have to pick up the
bill for their health care and children's education.
"All these workers who come cheaper will just drive down wages in this
country and more people will find themselves on the dole."
Fellow Tory MP Mike Penning said: "This is outrageous. We were promised by
the Government categorically that EU workers were only coming into Britain
when we had a job shortfall - not create job shortages.
"It is wrong and as it is an NHS project I would expect the Government to
give these people their jobs back."
Labour chairman Hazel Blears admitted yesterday that Government claims that
immigration helps the economy do not hold sway with voters.
In a move which may anger Cabinet colleagues, she also warned that
immigration was set to explode as an issue before the next election.
She said: "Labour must address concerns about immigration head on. We must
listen to people telling us they feel insecure."
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