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Another Poles going back story


After completing a Masters degree at a Polish university, Mariusz Gazda travelled to the UK hoping to find higher wages than those in his homeland. Now, like 500 of his fellow countrymen who lived in Derby, he has gone home disappointed. Chris Mallett reports.

For Mariusz Gazda coming from Poland to the UK was the perfect adventure - a life-changing experience with a financial incentive.

The 26-year-old, now 28, had seen thousands of his fellow countrymen take advantage of the European Union's open borders by becoming economic migrants.

In November 2006, the Polish media was telling people about the strong pound and how easy it was to take advantage of the British economic boom.

Mariusz decided to join his brother, Lukasz, 21, who was completing a degree in International Relations at the University of Derby.

With his Masters degree in mechanical engineering, he expected a job at one of the city's big companies, such as Rolls-Royce.

But the dream disintegrated and, in September last year, he decided it was time to leave the UK.

In the past six months, 500 Polish migrants have left Derby for their homeland because of the country's decreasing unemployment and rising wages.

The Polish zloty has increased in value from 6.11 to the pound in 2006 to 4.6 today.

And, since Poland's accession to the EU on May 1, 2004, the country's average monthly wage has increased by 10 per cent each year to 3,000 zlotys, rising to 4,000 in the cities.

People on British minimum wage currently earn about £1,100 per month, before tax, which is equal to 5,000 zlotys.

Given the rising cost of home rental and fuel prices in the UK, there is no longer any financial reason for many Polish people to stay here.

Now experts say Derby's Polish population, which is currently holding steady at about 6,000, could dip significantly in the coming years.

This may leave Derby's construction and hospitality industries searching for workers.

And it could also cause an employee shortfall on factory production lines and for bus companies, for whom many new workers are Eastern European.

Speaking to the Evening Telegraph through an interpreter, from his home in Biecz, Southern Poland, Mariusz said he had been mistaken about employment prospects in the UK.

Despite his high level degree from Krakow University, he spent more than a year of his time living with his brother in Derby, packaging chocolates on a factory assembly line.

He said: "I had been convinced by the labour market to come to Britain. At the time the pound was very strong.

"But I could not get a good job. I worked at a chocolate factory and for a few days at a meat factory.

"The working conditions were good but I had expected to have got something better."

Mariusz, who now works for an engineering design company, said he had noticed an improvement in wages and job opportunities in Poland since he returned home.

He said: "The biggest change is in the cities like Warsaw, Krakow, and Wroclaw, where people are earning much more than they were in 2006.

"Employers are trying to stop their employees from moving abroad. There is a lack of engineers in Poland because of the migration."

Lukasz said his brother had applied to Rolls-Royce for two positions while they lived together in Mount Carmel Street, Normanton.

He said: "They sent him letters thanking him for his application and telling him to try again in the future, but I think his lack of English and experience of working in Britain was a factor.

"He was packaging chocolates on a production line and for a few days he was delivering and preparing meat.

"He came to Derby because I was here and because friends said there were jobs available but the situation wasn't as he expected."

The head of the Polish embassy's economics department, Krzysztof Trepczynski, said the change in his country's economic situation had effects across the UK.

He said: "There has been a drop in the number of Polish people applying for work permits to the Home Office and some flights from Poland to the UK are no longer popular enough to continue to run.

"But we can't be surprised by this. In the 1980s, the same thing happened with migrants from Spain and Ireland."

Bish Wojcik, chairman of Derby's Eastern European Migrants Advice Committee, said the number of Polish people living in the city had levelled out over the past six months.

He said: "There are still 2,000 people filling two services at Derby's Polish church every Sunday, which gives you some idea of how many are here.

"But many are leaving, especially because of poor living and working conditions in Britain.

"Poland is also hosting the European Football Championship in 2012 with the Ukraine, which means there are plenty of high-profile contracts available, building hotels, stadiums and roads."

Mr Wojcik said Poles were part of a large migrant workforce which formed large parts of Derby's building, hospitality, factory and public transport labour force.

Councillor Dave Roberts, Derby City Council's deputy leader and member for personnel and economic development, said that, if Polish people continued to leave, an employee shortfall could be caused.

He said: "Skilled labourers such as bricklayers and plasterers are things we need to complete projects like the Westfield Centre.

"Many of these people are from Eastern Europe, especially Poland.

"If they leave, it could cause delays to some of the major building projects across the city."

Ron Wilson, Yorkshire and Trent regional director of the Federation of Master Builders, said the country was desperately short of skilled craftsmen and a reduction in migrant workers would make the situation worse.

He said: "After the economy dipped in the 90s, building companies downsized and there was a lack of willingness to take on apprentices.

"Some of our clients are already having to wait nine or 10 months for the builders they want to become available.

"That could slow down again if the Polish workers leave.

"This could certainly affect Derby because there are so many building projects there at the moment."

Despite the swing in migration trends, the dream of travelling from Eastern Europe to become successful in Britain is still alive for Slava Gorna and Youlia Safina.

The Russian pair are the owners of two Polish supermarkets in Derby and say they are not concerned about changes in the Polish economy.

In fact, they opened their second store, called Gastronome Victoria, in Normanton Road, less than two months ago.

Ms Safina said: "We know about the economic changes in Poland and it could affect sales in the future.

"But at the moment we are not concerned because many of our customers are from other Eastern European countries such as Slovakia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

"The Polish community is still large in Derby and we also have many English people shopping here because they are curious about what we sell."


Re: Another Poles going back story

“but I think his lack of English and experience of working in Britain was a factor”

Hmm, think so?