Beata (name changed), my elderly Polish cleaner, does multiple jobs at hotels, restaurants and houses to pay for her council house and to meet other expenses. At the hotel, she is required to clean five rooms in an hour at national minimum wage of £7.20. She is efficient, and is thus very popular in my local area where legal, hourly rate cleaners are hard to find.
My friend’s babysitter Anezka from the Czech Republic works as an assistant at a leading fast food outlet and does extra jobs so that she can pay her share of rent for a private accommodation she shares with her friends.
On 23 June, the UK is going to vote whether it wants to remain in the EU or exit (Brexit) its membership of over four decades. Immigration is at the heart of UK’s EU referendum and I wonder what would happen to potential workers like Beata and Anezka who want to come to this country in the pursuit of a better pay.
Workers like Beata and Anezka engaged in low skilled play an important role. By doing the (paid) work they do using their skills and time, they allow people like me and my friend to focus on the tasks we can do with our abilities.
Migrants (not just European) are everywhere, at the supermarkets, workplaces, at the doctor’s clinic carrying out jobs ranging from low skilled to the very high skilled. My local taxi driver is a Pakistani, I myself am a first generation non-EU migrant living in the UK, and my husband’s colleagues at a leading consulting firm in London are from as many as 30 different nationalities including a significant number of EU nationals.
There are different rules of entry into the UK depending on a person’s nationality. EU nationals have a free right to live and work in the UK while non-EU persons are required to qualify an entry criteria for working in the UK, such as having a job that pays over £20,800 per annum.
As a first generation middle class non-EU migrant who often competes with EU workers for work, I feel tempted to vote out in the referendum and wish for a fairer system that assesses potential EU workers on the basis of their skills and income too. But then there are statistics that make me think.
According to a report published by Oxford based Migration Observatory, the largest number of EU born workers living in UK are employed in low paying occupations and industries and are unlikely to qualify for an income linked work permit. The distribution, hotel and restaurant sector was the largest employer of EU workers in 2015, and only 6 per cent of these workers earned a minimum of £20,000 per annum. Industries such as banking, finance and education, that educated migrants like myself fancy, already had a large share of highly skilled and well paid EU workers. This suggests that a Brexit followed by a skills and income based policy (if this happens) would mainly hit lower skilled workers like Beata and Anezka.
For society to function at its optimum, we are going to need pizza delivery boys and cleaners as much as we need millionaires and high tax payers. The key question is who should do these jobs and at what wages and conditions.