Christopher Cogan used to start his working day by logging on to his computer. That was when he was a creative director. These days he is more likely to pick up a knife to cut vegetables on the factory floor.
Mr Cogan, 52, is one of a growing number of Britons who are taking up jobs that in the past ten years attracted only migrant workers.
He was earning £40,000 a year for a 38-hour week in advertising, where he had worked for 27 years before being made redundant. Last week he worked 82 hours at the minimum wage of £5.73 per hour to earn £469. “You have to pay the bills,” he said.
Mr Cogan works in a factory where he prepares, counts and stacks bagged vegetables. He estimated that 90 per cent of the workers were migrants–Eastern Europeans, Afghans, Iraqis and Iranians. The Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA), which regulates those who provide labour in agriculture, forestry, horticulture, shellfish gathering and food processing and packaging, said that about three quarters of the estimated 650,000 workers in licensed companies are from outside Britain.
The work is seasonal and temporary and the average net income for agency workers was just under £200 per week based on an average of 33-48 hours per week, representing a net annual income of £10,800.
“The reality is that native British people have not wished to do these jobs in the past.” says Paul Whitehouse, chairman of the GLA.
Last December Mr Whitehouse started to see British workers for the first time on factory floors that previously employed only migrants. Gangmasters, or “labour providers” as they like to be known, also reported similar increases in demand from British workers.
Mark Rye, UK operations manager of DKM Labour Solutions, said: “Where we were getting two to three applications a day before the recession, we’re now seeing up to twenty-five applications for the same job. Over 80 per cent of these applications are from British people. In the past, we would not have seen many at all.”
Others agencies told The Times that they had experienced similar increases. Marshall Evans of Staffline Recruitment Group, one of the largest providers of temporary labour in the UK, said that it had seen a 3 per cent rise in British workers since last August–and many more are registering. Sam Scott, author of the GLA’s 2008 annual review, predicted further changes: “As the agricultural season starts in spring, there’s a good likelihood that we’ll hear English spoken on some of the fields that have been providing work exclusively to migrants. We might also see students, which we haven’t seen for a while.”
The most recent Home Office immigration statistics suggest that fewer migrants are entering the UK and that many of those who came here earlier have gone home. The majority of new migrants are single and aged between 18 and 34.