The £100-a-day job that local workers won't do

IT'S the £100 a day job that unemployed Scots don't want. A Lothian farmer today revealed that he has to rely on migrant workers because not even jobless people in the area want to try their hand at fruit picking.

But far from it being a tiresome job with little reward, workers at the farm who regularly average up to 100-a-day say they can't believe local people don't want to do the job.

It is just one of many industries across the Lothians which now rely almost exclusively on migrant workers, despite figures showing that there are more than 11,000 people officially classed as unemployed in the Capital alone.

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John Sinclair, the owner of West Craigie Fruit Farm outside South Queensferry, told the Evening News that the arrival of eastern European workers had practically saved his business.

The 39-year-old said: "It angers me a bit that younger Scottish folk would rather be unemployed than do work like this.

"I think there is less of a desire to work for things these days and people just get handed things on a plate."

While official figures suggest that around 11,600 people are officially unemployed in the Capital, the actual number out of work is far higher.

A recent profile of the Capital's labour market, compiled by the Office for National Statistics, estimated that almost 20 per cent of the working age population is "economically inactive".

This includes people who are looking after family or have taken early retirement.

Mr Sinclair said that Scots could learn a lot from the hard-working migrants.

"Before, you would never know if some of your staff were going to turn up on a Monday after you'd paid them, and that kind of thing can lead to you losing contracts.

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"With the migrant workers who come over, the work ethic is tremendous, and they have a good time into the bargain. Even if they have been up late having a party, they would be out there picking at 4am if they were asked to. Missing work just isn't an option for them, they don't consider it."

He added: "It really takes you aback when you hear the stories some of these people come across with," he said.

"In recent years we've had quite a lot of Ukrainian students who come just for the summer to help pay their way through their studies.

"When I was taking two of them back to the airport last year I asked them what they were going to do with all the money they made, and the first thing they both said was, pay the lecturers a percentage of what they had earned, otherwise they would fail their exams.

"The only time we can really get folk from the area is schoolkids on their holidays. Their mums would maybe come up and say they wanted to work for a few weeks, but many of them do a couple of days and you never see them again."

Although thought of as seasonal work – the picking season runs from May until October – migrant workers are employed at the farm all year round.

Many of those out of work don't even want a job, according to the ONS report, backing up concerns that people think they can earn as much in benefits as they could working for minimum wage payment.

But Mr Sinclair put paid to the theory, emphasising the amount that can be made from some hard work on the farm.

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And he pointed out that the diverse nature of the farm made it a more enjoyable place to work.

He said: "This place, in the summer especially, is great, there are all kinds of people here and it is a fantastic atmosphere.

"People are employed from January right through until November. It is interesting to see how things change.

"Three or four years ago I would get 15 e-mails a day from Polish people looking for work, but now it is more Bulgarian and Romanian.

"The Polish people are now more likely to be skilled and be looking for office-based jobs – but I'm not sure they would make 80 or 90 a day from that."

Fruit picking may be the most prosperous industry for migrant workers in the Lothians, but it is by no means the only one dependent on foreign labour.

Reliance on eastern European workers peaked in 2005 and 2006, according to employment agencies, but they still make up the largest proportion of active job seekers in the city.

Chris Watson, a branch manager of Labour Ready – a recruitment agency in Bread Street – said: "A couple of years ago I would say more than 90 per cent of the people we dealt with were from outside the UK. It's a bit less now, probably 60 to 70 per cent, but before the Eastern Europeans came to Edinburgh we were struggling to get anyone."

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One Polish worker, Bartosz Brozek, 26, who lives in Leith, moved to Edinburgh in 2005 to find work.

He has worked in a range of unskilled jobs since his arrival, and has no sympathy with those Scots who claim that they can't find work.

He said: "I was in Edinburgh for a matter of days when I found a job at a building site.

"I could not speak very good English at this time and had not worked much before, but I went to one agency with a friend and found a number of jobs to choose from. Even now it is easy to work in an office without having done so before and you can live comfortably with the pay.

"It is not like Poland where you have to work very, very hard to make enough money to eat and to live.

"I can not understand why there are people who say they never find work – all you have to do is spend an hour looking and you can secure employment for a long time.

"On building sites I have had bosses say to me that if it wasn't for me and my (Polish) friends, the buildings would never be finished – or maybe even started!"

'It can be hard but you get used to it quickly'

IVANA GOLIASOVA moved from the Slovak Republic four years ago to work at West Craigie Farm.

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She said: "When I first came I found it a bit difficult for the first few days because I had only ever worked at a counter, but after a short time it becomes like any other job."

Ivana, who originally moved over with her ex-boyfriend with the intention of making a fortune and returning to her homeland, has altered her plans since she arrived.

She has worked for four years at West Craigie Farm. When the picking season is over she, like other migrant workers, takes up other roles on the farm for hourly pay, generally just above the minimum wage.

But she said the fortunes available by doing piece work in the summer and autumn months make the job a prosperous one.

"Right now I can make so much money to save and soon I plan to travel and see the world, working here has paid for that," she said.

"It is a good job as well. Yes it can be hard work but you get used to it very quickly. There are many people to meet from many countries and it allows you to make so many friends.

"When the Scottish people come I feel bad for calling them lazy and it is not a nice word, but they do not seem to like the work and do not last for too long."

Another Slovakian worker, 22-year-old Stefan Jolias, has been in the Lothians for a year. Like Ivana, he lives on site in the mobile homes Mr Sinclair has set aside for his workers.

He could not believe the rate of pay when he arrived.

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"Here I can make in a hard day's work what you would make for doing the same thing in the Slovak Republic for a month," he said. "I have been able to save so much so I can soon go back home, buy a car, buy a home, and I would never have been able to do this if I had stayed at home.

"When I go back I always say to my friends that they must come over."

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