LONDON — Filipe Graca hovered over an espresso machine at the British food chain Pret A Manger and frothed out a cafe latte for a waiting customer. Until last year, he had struggled to find any kind of a job in his native Portugal. But when he arrived in London, he was able to work almost right away.
While European nationals working in Britain make up just 5 percent of the 31.5 million-strong work force, compared to 11 percent from overseas, they have become a visible flash point in the overall debate about whether and what type of immigration really works for Britain.
The “leave” camp argues that it has been too easy for “migrant workers” from Europe to waltz into the country and take British jobs. “We have absolutely no power to control the numbers who are coming with no job offers and no qualifications from the 28 E.U. countries,” Boris Johnson, the former London mayor, said in a recent speech rallying for a Brexit.
British businesses have faced criticism for hiring them. Greencore, Britain’s biggest sandwich maker, drew fire for seeking hundreds of Hungarian employees for a new sandwich factory in Northampton, an hour north of London. Pret A Manger, whose stores dot street corners across Britain, has been faulted for employing relatively few British workers. (A spokesman for Pret A Manger declined to comment.)
Critics also point to the low wages that many E.U. workers seem willing to take in labor-intensive industries, especially people fleeing struggling economies. Nearly 40 percent of the more than two million European workers in Britain hail from low-wage nations such as Poland and Romania. And since a debt crisis struck the European south, growing numbers of Italians, Greeks, Spanish and Portuguese have left for a chance at any employment in Britain.
André Beukes is an EU Management Consultant to international companies doing business in Europe. He provides clients with practical business support that makes a real difference doing business in the EU. “Put simply, I am here to help you meet your challenges. I believe in the importance of doing things correctly, meaning risks are reduced and problems are avoided.”