Posts Tagged jobs

The year of the Water Snake, Romanians and the floods

On the last day of the Chinese year recently ended, I woke up with such a good vibe. I could almost feel it flow in my veins and everything ran smoothly that day. Then, sometimes during the first day of this Chinese year, which was 1st of February, I realised it. Please let me share with you this revelation extracted from the ancient Far East pot of wisdom.
From 10th of February 2013 to the 31st of January the Water Snake dominated the year Chinese astrology. And I don’t know of you realise this, BUT… apparently, according to information from the news (heard it on the radio), it has been the wettest year in records at least for Hampshire and Dorset. Also, don’t you see how popular the word “flood” has become during this year? Mainly associated with Romanians and Bulgarians, but doesn’t this make us think what if astrology actually works? It’s almost as if the crappy side of the British media and politics, as well as many people buying into it, were hypnotised by the power of the snake and their minds have been beamed with a flow of cosmic energy making them obsessed with “floods, floods, floods, floods”.
Sorry, I’m not trying to hypnotise you myself.

Now, ancient cosmic theories aside, should I feel like a drop in an ocean of Romanians flooding Britain to the brim? I highly doubt it. And I find it quite unlikely that many of the people back in my home country would “invade” the shores of the UK from now on, as there is actually not much reason for them to do so.

(Photo: In London for the first time, March 2011)

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  For starters, I would refer to myself and my family. Apart from my two cousins who live in         Germany since 1991, as their mother was a German ethnic and as such granted the   right to        move there even when Romanians still needed a visa to cross the borders into Western Europe, I am the only one who decided to go abroad. As much as I fought the idea of one day settling in another country, it has finally happened. And to think years ago, when I was studying on a scholarship in Denmark (2000) or when an Au Pair in the US (2003-2004), it never even crossed my mind to stay there. On the contrary, I completely rejected the idea.

It’s not that my brother and sister-in-law wouldn’t even consider moving abroad. It’s just that they really have what they need back in Romania. Ok, we’re not talking of a bright financial situation, jobs paid at a Western European rate, or anything like this. But they do have jobs, they have a family, they have friends and maybe even prospects of working on a small private business. They’ve got debts as well, but manageable.
 I can’t see my brother deciding to go and live thousands of kilometres away from our parents, from the place we grew up in. Not to say that he also stays with our grandmother, helping her at the same time (she’s over 80 now), and helping my parents renovate the house for when they’ll move in when my dad becomes a pensioner, in couple of years from now.

That is one particular case, of course, of me and my family back in Romania. But from my own experience I can say that it’s unlikely that much more Romanians would come to work in the UK. The evidence I have about this might be anecdotal, but it makes sense as well, it’s much more logical than the obsessive political speech of UKIP leaders “they will flood, they will scrounge, they will plunder and pillage” (yes, apparently some people’s speeches haven’t evolved much since the Middle Ages).
First, the British public is mostly uninformed. I guess it wasn’t serving the political agenda to give the whole information and not mislead them. On my surfing through comments over articles I have seen numerous time people who had no idea on the reality of Romanians rights to settle and work in the UK since 2007. When saying I myself am a Romanian working and living here, I was asked how do I do this if it was illegal for me until 2014. People clearly didn’t know and some of them still don’t. Only yesterday I’ve read the same commentator on Huffington Post stating twice that Romanians needed visas in the 2007-2014 period of time.

The reality is that Romanians who wanted to come and work in the UK had a lot more opportunities to do so than the public knows. First, they could be self-employed, and this was not so difficult to do in industries like construction. Yes, it was recommended that they came with some money upon them to buy tools and a van, but sometimes all it took was another fellow countryman who would have these available and would offer somebody else the opportunity to come and work with them. When I first came to the UK, I was hosted by some friends of my partner’s, whom he used to work with in construction back in Bucharest for years.
Then people could come here through different job agencies based in Romania. Many of the ones enrolled at the same college as me for a qualification in Health and Social Care did just that. Paying such an agency was a bit of a rip off, and sometimes they wouldn’t really do much for you. This path implied people having money to pay the agency (around £600), pay for an overpriced plane ticket offered by the same agency (around £200 one way at least), pay to enrol college (£500), have between £600-£1000 to deposit in the bank needed in order to apply for a work permit and then have money on them so they could rent a room while studying and waiting to be able to get a job. That’s quite an investment, isn’t it? I just skipped the agency part, fortunately, going straight to college, and being helped by friends to start with.

So there was also the path I took. Get the information, go join college, study every day for a month, then qualify through a work placement. It was quite easy for somebody who had the guts, had some support and was ready to go and work even in other parts of the country, other than London. Work placement was also essential for studying, that is why when joining college all of us applied for a Yellow Card, which was giving us the right to work as students, full time in the industry as an essential part of the vocational training. And in Health and Social Care it is, one needs work related experience to get the qualification.
When I finished the daily training in London, ready for distance studying now, I went to the students’ welfare person at the college and asked him to help me with work placement. My English was really good, I was a driver, I had a good CV, so I got a job in less than a month and moved to the South, where I still live today. After one year of legally working and paying taxes, I could apply for a Blue Card, which was the proof I was by law entitled to work without restrictions in the UK. I am pretty sure most of the British public don’t have a clue about these laws, as most of the employers didn’t either, unless they sometimes worked with such colleges when in desperate need to fill in some job vacancies nobody seemed keen on.

Now when I got my job here and I moved in the area I was greeted by a Romanian co-worker. He came to the UK with his then girlfriend, now wife, the same way as I did. We all support people with learning disabilities either in a residential setting, or supported living, as employees of a big company working nationally, with a few homes locally open in New Forest. The Romanian who has worked for the longest in these homes has been around for about 5 years. Then there came the couple, then another Romanian lady and me. The last of our nationals came here through an agency and only for temporary work, as he needs to save money to buy a family home back in the country.
The people who have been the longest with the company are all British English. This is for me a good barometer for the fact that they don’t prefer foreign workers over local ones. Also, during the three years I’ve been here there have been more than six British locals employed, more than us, the Romanians who came here over a time span of 7 years.

Knowing all these, it’s so difficult for me to buy into the whole “foreigners steal jobs of British people” thing. The same happens with the other arguments given, that we work for illegal low payment and we live in crammed shared houses. The only ones here (out of the mentioned people) who have quite a bunch of house mates of many different nationalities are me and my partner, and we only do this as we’ve saved for studying further and starting a small business and, after all, we don’t have a family yet.
Also, us the Romanians working for the company have the same hourly payment as all the young British people who were recently hired.

I must say that, not even one year in the field, one of my colleagues went on a maternity leave and at that time, February 2012, it was a nightmare getting somebody else for a job. The manager had to struggle to find somebody, a young local, in the end. For couple of months I’ve done loads of overtime to help cover, but the money came handy as well. Ever since, it has been easier to find locals for the jobs. Only at the end of last year there were many applications for another job vacancy recently open.

The information I have from UKBA, where I had to apply for my work permits, which now are no longer required, and my own experience tell me that indeed there must have been some kind of a cosmic snake playing with people’s minds into making them believe they would be drowned in vast numbers of Romanians.
As I said before on other blogs and discussion boards, a very high percentage of people who wanted to find work in another country already did so. Many of them have moved back to Romania now from Spain and Italy, having saved enough money to buy a house, to start a business, or even live off bank interests on their deposits. Even the ones who never really imagined to do this and used to think of themselves changing our home country (like I did) have ended up in the UK and elsewhere. The ones who stayed either have a situation, family, friends that they don’t want to leave, or don’t have means to do the big leap and get better jobs in Western country.
It’s really difficult to imagine Romanians from deprived regions somehow getting the money to buy plane tickets and live in London or another British city/town until they find a job.  The most poverty stricken of them (I came to hate the phrase because of over-usage in political propaganda) live in the countryside. Still, in their humble homes and worn out clothing, they have a vegetable garden which helps feed themselves and their families, chicken in the yard, a cow in a barn. They have neighbours they can always go over for a shot of rachie or tuica, the national plum brandy, to curse the Romanian government and discuss the hottest topics in the news and in low-quality tv shows. Even the safety of your own poverty in the village you grew up in is better than going to another country where you would be seen as a filthy beggar, thief or benefit scrounger. And with no clear prospects to get a job, who’d want to burrow couple of hundred quid just to fly and risk living on the streets of London, such a big city, where nobody could understand them, nobody would give a rotten penny on them and, on the contrary, they might become subjects to crime and violence?

Now let’s hope that the Water Snake gone, so will the floods. Maybe this Chinese year of the Wooden Horse will bring more action, energy and pro-activeness, that if we believe in cosmic forces beamed over our heads. Astrology or no astrology, it all depends on us, in the end. I am this incurable believer in the capacity humanity has to evolve and control its own destiny in the end.
Wait… wooden horse… are those hordes of foreigners now preparing to take over Britain by ancient means of trickery? Might be, as we’re already here. No need for paranoia though, most of us (over 99%, according to figures offered by the Romanian Ambassador, whom I found to be the most reliable source over 2013) work, pay taxes, contribute, are in the prime of our lives, fit and healthy, skilled and ready to work. Everything which was invested in us back home through education and FREE medical care (I was save numerous times by Romanian doctors, no payment involved, from death by asthma attack or pneumonia or complication due to bronchitis, but since here never once had the flu even) now pays off in British taxes. If anybody is ready to take off their dark glasses of fear they might discover some great people to have a pint with at the local pub or to share some baking, travelling or motoring tips with. 

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A Romanian in the UK. The first step

Over the last year, 19.000 more Romanians and Bulgarians started to work in the UK. Also, 378.000 new jobs were taken by British nationals. These numbers, which I found in a recent Guardian article, bring some light over the very dark valley lurking with chilling whispers (sometimes sounding more like ghastly screams and shouts) about the Romanian and Bulgarian hordes of 29 millions waiting to invade the British shore, steal jobs from the British, milk the benefit system down, abuse the NHS and live 20 people in a three bedroom house. If it was only for my parents, my nans, their village neighbours and I can assure you some tens of people are NOT going to invade.

The article which I’ve gladly read on the Guardian site manages to shed light on a bigger piece of the puzzle. Nationals of the two countries, one of which is my own home country, took only a small percentage of the jobs available, which in my opinion is not that horrible. Most of the Romanians I know here work in the same industry as me, health and social care, or in construction, they are young and fit people, determined to succeed, to make the most of their own lives. Me and one other Romanian colleague at work have come here to get another qualification which we couldn’t afford back home, as there were no jobs available in the field either. We paid about £2.000 to study for it, we work together with British born and raised colleagues and some other two nationalities, we pay taxes, we are searching for new opportunities to study so we can have better earnings in the future.

 

My partner as well works in the same field, but with an agency, and I’m telling you they are continuously looking for new employees. He earns even better than me, as he can be paid over £100 a day, but his work is more physically demanding, as well as on the go, today in one residential home, tomorrow in another, which is an option I wouldn’t really be up to. He handles is quite well though, being even fitter than me, very determined, well organised and hard working.

Both me and him chose this field not at random, but because we were always inclined to the social sciences and humanities. I know it sounds a bit pretentious, after all we are both support workers, not the best paid jobs and not necessarily the ones regarded as the most intellectual. But when you go and take your chance in another country you are willing to even start working it from the bottom up, especially if the circumstances force you to change carriers. Back in Romania I used to be a teacher and a journalist, fields which have both been in a lot of trouble during the last 5 years, and he studied Psychology in the University, while being a plumber, trade which he couldn’t practice here so far.

 

The Guardian article finally gave me the push to get myself to writing what I’ve had in my mind, more or less, over the whole year. At first I was shocked, to an extent, at reading the Daily Fail type of tabloids, which I came to think are more horrible than the Romanian worst quality ones. At least those were filled almost exclusively with cheesy pornographic completely stupid and mind-blocking stuff, such as the X star, who used to be a known singer’s wife, has had another row with her mum after she learnt how to bake, or other such incredible things. I haven’t read much of political dirt, much of racial rant, much of social fear inducing articles, other than the ones about the hurricanes and floods that were to sweep Romania every summer or more-than-heavy snowing we were going to hardly survive. If any articles about Roma people, or Gypsies how they are known even in Britain, they are mostly centred on the successful Roma singers of a popular music style called manele and rooted in the old Ottoman Empire. These singers make lots of money, they display big golden jewellery, outrageously painted expensive cars and have a new secret lover every week. Oh, and they have loads of enemies who either envy them, or try to harm them, or both.

I’m not sure that everybody will see UK tabloids versus Romanian tabloids just the same, but this is my vision of them, compared to each other. And this is what I actually intend to do with this new series of posts on my blog: speak about my Romanian life and my British life, as I wish to share them both with people who would like to find out more than the newspapers can give them, may they be in good will or serving politics and covering the incompetence of today’s leaders.  

 

Going back to the figures, they look more than normal to me. They display the normality of normality in a country which still attracts migrants, in a Europe which is still struggling to come together after two World Wars that ripped it apart and some social revolutions/changes that happened in just a blink of an eye. For the big history of humanity, I’m not even sure that an almost 100 years makes enough for a blink. British people get new jobs every year, some of them in the company where I work (over the last year and a half, four new local British employees, young people, have joined a small service with about 13 support workers all in all). The oldest employees in the company houses here are British locals. We have colleagues of two other nationalities, if I’m not mistaking, and we all try to provide the best service to the clients we support.

 

Under these circumstances, I feel reactions such as the one I got on Facebook, when posting a link to the Guardian article, might be rooted in lack of information or fears fed by the mainstream that seems to be overflowing with harmful effects. It might not be physical harm, but let’s not forget that the psychological one can be even worse and most of the times precedes the physical stage. Reading articles that describe Romanians as beggars, scroungers, criminals, people who only come here to take advantage on the social system, to get undeserved benefits, to work illegally, avoid taxes and live in hard to picture conditions got to me, but in a positive way. Yes, at first I was irritated, yes, I felt there can’t be such a thing as a crusade against other people just because they are of a certain nationality, yes, I was a little upset that people let themselves so carried away by negativity, fears, even hatred, violence which seeks just a way to leak out so it doesn’t eat on the inside. Then I realised if I keep reading and complaining about it, to myself or to my partner, if I judge the people who allow themselves to be wound up by such media filth, I’m just making myself part of the plan (and I’m not a conspiracy theories fan).
What I can do better is tell my story, tell people about real Romania, about how my life was and is, and maybe how I think we can all do things better for ourselves. A personal touch and commitment has been known to do wonders. And I’ve actually just started doing it.

 

 

 

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