Curbs on East Europeans 'will hit employers'
STRICT curbs on the number of Bulgarians and Romanians allowed to work in the UK will leave employers struggling to fill key vacancies, Scotland's biggest recruiter of staff from Eastern Europe warned yesterday.
George Chalmers claimed he had an ever-growing pool of jobs to be filled in the hospitality and construction sectors, and he said John Reid, the Home Secretary, had been wrong to impose tough controls on potential incomers from the two countries.
His warning came as a survey by the City of Edinburgh Council showed 80 per cent of existing migrants planned to head home within two years. Yet tourism in Scotland's capital is surging, with revenue expected to soar by 50 per cent by 2015, requiring an extra 10,000 workers in the city.
When Bulgaria and Romania become members of the European Union in January, unskilled workers from there can apply under existing quotas limited to agricultural and food-industry jobs, while those with higher skills will have to join the queue with non-EU nationals for highly-skilled-migrant permits.
Mr Chalmers, who runs hotel-jobs-scotland.com, said those restrictions would deprive employers of talented and hard-working staff.
"It's not a question of cheap labour; it is a question of filling a skills gap," he said. "We had really been gearing up for Bulgaria and Romania, but now John Reid has really caused problems for me and my clients."
He said his agency ensured workers were paid at least the minimum wage, or the same as British workers for the same job.
He thought the announcement of stringent controls on Bulgarian and Romanian workers was a "reaction to a tabloid press scare campaign". He said: "It is all very well for little Englanders to complain about 'these people coming here taking our jobs', but there are also millions of UK people who own second homes in Europe and make no attempts at all to integrate."
Since ten new countries joined the EU in 2004, Mr Chalmers, whose clients range from five-star-hotel chains to Ford service centres, has placed about 3,000 migrants in jobs around the UK.
He had lined up interviews for former cruise ship staff in Romania who would have been in high demand because of their international hospitality experience, but he is now going to have to turn away disappointed employers and potential recruits.
Despite the setback over the latest EU entrants, he now plans to expand his business by opening an office in the Polish capital, Warsaw, so he can source workers direct.
Mr Chalmers also criticised the First Minister Jack McConnell's recent call for more workers and tourists from the United States to come to Scotland. He said: "Why Americans and not East Europeans, who should be allowed to come anyway? They are skilled and hard-working."
The impact of the Home Secretary's restrictions on the Highlands' tourism industry is expected to be particularly severe.
Simon Cole-Hamilton, the chief executive of Inverness Chamber of Commerce, warned there could be "an enormous gap in our economy" because of Romanians and Bulgarians being denied jobs.
He said the 5,000 or so Poles who had settled in the area had benefited the community greatly, and went on: "We are going to need more people year on year, and we must keep up the migrant flow that we have had over the last two to three years.
"Of those who come here now, many might go home over the next few years as their own economies grow, which will leave an enormous gap in our economy."
Mr Cole-Hamilton did acknowledge that language difficulties could cause problems - and the language barrier and other impacts of migration are being researched by Edinburgh city council.
More than half of those working in the capital's hospitality sector now count English as their second language, and Raoul Barbier, of the council's tourism development division, said: "When you have a large number of people whose first language is not English, you are not presenting a traditional Scottish welcome."
However, feedback to the council from employers has been overwhelmingly positive.
Managers report that the new EU nations have a strong work ethic and strong motivation.
There are up to 10,000 migrant workers from the accession states in Edinburgh.
'I'll get some experience then go home'
KAROLINA Pelowska, 21, is one of the tens of thousands of Poles who work in Scotland - and like many others, she is employed in the hotel industry.
Karolina, a spa assistant at the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh, arrived in July 2005. "I was going to stay just for a year, so I could earn money to continue my education in Poland," she says. "I came with six friends, and four of us now work in the Balmoral.
"My first job was housekeeping - it was a good place to start, but I'm keen to learn more and asked if they would give me a transfer. Now I'm working in the spa as a receptionist and it's really good fun, I really like it."
Karolina, 21, wants to stay in hospitality and is thinking of going to college here. "When I came, I really missed home and family. Now it's better because I don't feel so strange any more. I like Edinburgh. I like the life here and the people are so nice. In Poland, people are sad because of the standard of living and the government.
"I don't think I'll stay forever. I'd like to get experience here and go to college, and then go back to my country."
Edgars Grisulis, 24, from Latvia, is head barman at the Bollinger Bar in the Balmoral and recently completed the first level of the hotel's management development programme. "Working here is the highlight of my day," he says. "I have lots of ideas for the bar, I'm passionate about whisky and I love creating new things. I've done a lot here. And I want to do even more."
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