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BellaOnline's British Television Editor

The Day the Immigrants Left

Immigration is an emotive topic in virtually every country in the world. Almost all nations are struggling with this issue in Europe, North America, Australia and even poor countries who have to deal with refugees and economic migrants from even poorer neighbours. On the one side we have people who say globalisation and the free movement of goods should also mean the free movement of labour. The other side says, huge movements of people to other countries takes away jobs for the local people, swamps the native culture and overburdens services.

Taking simply the question of whether immigrants take the jobs away from local people, the BBC conducted an experiment in the small market town of Wisbech, Cambridgeshire in the east of England. The town has seen a large influx of immigrants from Eastern Europe and Portugal. The show, hosted by economic editor Gavin Davies, decided to take away the immigrant workforce for two days and put local people who are currently drawing unemployment benefit in their place.

The jobs involved working on a production line in a potato factory, cutting asparagus in the fields, working as a builder and plaster and serving in an Indian restaurant. The results made uncomfortable viewing.

Three men were given jobs in the potato factory. One young man, who spent all his time playing computer games, didnít turn up for work but sent a text saying he had been out and felt unwell. The other older men turned up but they worked quite slowly, didnít count how many bags went into the boxes and complained the conveyor belt had been purposely speeded up (in fact it had been slowed down as they were new). To be fair, they did improve with practice.

The young man working in the asparagus field seemed lazy in what is admittedly boring, back breaking work. He missed plenty of stalks and talked back to the Portuguese manager when he was reprimanded. The builder and plasterer was told off for using a nail gun instead of screws and out of the three people who were supposed to work in the Indian restaurant, only one turned up and he gave up half way through the work.

Was the programme fair and balanced? Obviously the immigrants who make an effort and come to work in another country are a self-selecting group. They are the ones who have the drive, commitment to get up and go. There are presumably just as many lazy and arrogant workers in these countries but they probably stay at home.

The British workers were thrown in at the deep end and made to work with the TV cameras on them. However, if they didnít turn up, didnít try and spoke back in a rude and arrogant way to the managers, itís not surprising they were not given jobs. The young man who had never worked in his life, received unemployment benefit, spent his days playing computer games and said, ĎIím not going to take just any jobí was a major embarrassment. It seems obvious people like him should not be getting state handouts.

Taking to the factory managers, they said they could only run their business with immigrant labour and if they didnít have that, they would pack up and leave or use more mechanisation. They said immigrants created the jobs, they didnít take them from the local workforce. The factors also created jobs for the English middle class workers in various management positions.

The programme also didnít really dwell too much on the effect on local services such as schools, hospitals etc, that immigrants caused. But it was a thought provoking experiment and I think really got people talking.

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