Right I am going to do something a little different with what may be the penultimate post of the year.
But before I start it, I would like to give a public thank you to Ancient Brit who provided me with the information I will be publishing.
Although I have never met The Lady, she as been instrumental in providing the Green Arrow Blog and Forum with information and works tirelessly behind the scenes(along with others) doing unpaid research work.
On a personal level she as assisted financially in keeping the Green Arrow machine rolling with its large (to me on a pension) monthly outgoings.
But an even greater contribution from her, is that when I am down, she is there to pick me up and set me off again. So thank you Ancient Brit, my kinsman and sister.
That said. Let's Roll.....
Yesterday, I wrote an article called Llanelli Politicians and the BNP, today we carry on with an expose that will give you a glimpse of the truth about what is happening not only in Wales but also the rest of Great Britain.
I am going to publish an entire government document and will use italics and embolden parts of it to highlight points I consider of interest.
I would like others more capable than myself to take it away and add comments under the relevant parts. I am sure that as you read it you will have many comments of your own.
It is a long document but I ask you to persevere and read it. If it was not important I would not publish it.....
UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE To be published as HC 34-iii
House of COMMONS
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
WELSH AFFAIRS COMMITTEE
GLOBALISATION AND ITS IMPACT ON WALES
TUESday 20 November 2007
MR JEFF HOPKINS and MS HALINA ASHLEY
Evidence heard in Public Questions 1461 - 1533
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
1. This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.
2. Any public use of, or reference to, the contents should make clear that neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.
3. Members who receive this for the purpose of correcting questions addressed by them to witnesses are asked to send corrections to the Committee Assistant.
4. Prospective witnesses may receive this in preparation for any written or oral evidence they may in due course give to the Committee.
Taken before the Welsh Affairs Committee
on Tuesday 20 November 2007
Dr Hywel Francis, in the Chair
Mr David Jones
Mr Martyn Jones
Memorandum submitted by The Polish-Welsh Mutual Association
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Mr Jeff Hopkins, Chairman, and Ms Halina Ashley, Polish Centre Manager and Secretary, The Polish-Welsh Mutual Association, gave evidence.
Q1461 Chairman: Good morning and welcome to the Welsh Affairs Committee. Could I ask you to introduce yourselves for the record, please?
Mr Hopkins: I will be a gentleman and introduce Halina first! Halina is the Manager of our Polish Centre in Llanelli. We have submitted a memorandum explaining when we started. I am Jeff Hopkins, the General Manager of the Credit Union and Chairman of the Polish-Welsh Mutual Association in Llanelli. The Polish-Welsh Association began in 2006 when the Welsh Assembly Government gave us some money and we were able to move the work we were doing out of the Credit Union into the Polish Centre which the Credit Union had acquired for further expansion and building.
Q1462 Chairman: Could I begin by thanking you for the memorandum you sent us which was very helpful in preparing for this session. Could you outline the main services that your organisation offers to migrant workers in Llanelli?
Ms Ashley: There is an appendix at the back of the memorandum and the services we have provided over the past 12 months are listed there. We have actually dealt with 6,816 queries. We do a lot of things which are not listed here, like telephone translations and we assist with medical examinations and visits to solicitors. We do anything people require of us.
Q1463 Chairman: Could you tell me whether there are other similar organisations in other parts of Wales or in other parts of the United Kingdom?
Ms Ashley: No, definitely not. We seem to be unique in the UK. For instance, in London there were Polish communities established and when new arrivals came to this country they were seeking support from the older generation, from the old immigration as they call it. In Wales, specifically in Llanelli, there were only three women of Polish origin and so there was no community as such.
Q1464 Chairman: Have you actually established relationships with those older Polish communities in the United Kingdom?
Ms Ashley: No. We do not have any contact. People seek and find us. We are getting telephone calls for help from all over the United Kingdom.
Q1465 Mark Williams: In my constituency, in Ceredigion, we have something like 400 Polish residents.
Ms Ashley: We are serving those as well.
Q1466 Mark Williams: Particularly in rural areas where there is not a big concentration of people but they are very much individuals, individual families, the student community and people working on individual farms, you are helping those people as well, are you? They are finding you, are they?
Ms Ashley: Yes, when they are in trouble. They do not come for everyday things like they come to the Centre for, but they do come when they have an employment problem. There is a lot of exploitation going on. We put them in touch with solicitors. When they have a serious problem they come to us.
Q1467 Hywel Williams: Do you have any contact with Dom Polska, which is a long-established retirement home for Polish people?
Ms Ashley: No, we do not.
Q1468 Hywel Williams: I am just thinking in terms of some people who have been in the United Kingdom for 40, 50 or 60 years.
Ms Ashley: They are really getting on now, with respect. They would not be able to help. The new generation's children and grandchildren perhaps do not even speak Polish.
Q1469 Albert Owen: I want to continue the theme of relationships with other organisations. You say in your memorandum that prior to your inception it was the credit unions, politicians and trade unions that set up this help for migrant workers. Does that relationship still exist? How do you liaise with groups such as the police, local churches and education providers? You said that language was a big issue. How does that mechanism work?
Ms Ashley: We do. As everybody who knows us knows, we are very, very busy. We have a very good working relationship with the council, the police, with medical associations and with voluntary organisations as well. We have a lot of meetings and we are trying to improve our services constantly. The relationship between the Credit Union and the Polish Association is financial. As these people are excluded for the first three years from access to any credit the Credit Union is able to provide this credit for them. It is not extortionate amounts, just a couple of thousand pounds.
Q1470 Albert Owen: For instance, do they come into the Association's building for financial advice or do individuals go to the Credit Union?
Ms Ashley: People come for financial advice when they are in trouble financially, but this is not the case with Polish migrants. Polish people have everyday problems dealing with utilities, accommodation problems, work problems, but as far as their finances are concerned, what the Credit Union offers them is the savings facility and then short-term loans to go back home to visit their family, to buy cars or for housing bonds, which would have been impossible for them to get from the mainstream backing. If they need to change accommodation they are forced to go to high interest lenders, like Shopacheck or Providence.
Q1471 Albert Owen: Mr Atkins, prior to the Association you say there was a relationship with the unions and politicians and that is continuing. We have taken evidence from agencies and there are issues there. Do the trade unions actively encourage the migrant workers from Poland to join the unions or give advice?
Mr Hopkins: We encourage the Polish workers from Poland to join the trade unions. The trade unions have come alive to that. Halina went to the British TUC Conference in Brighton this year and she spoke at a fringe meeting there. We have had a continuous relationship with the Wales TUC and in particular with Unite as it is now. We have accessed funds through the Welsh Assembly Government that has come through the trade union movement in terms of education where we have put in two IT facilities, where Polish people come in off the street to us and they can use the computers and talk to Poland or whatever they like with them.
Q1472 Albert Owen: We have had evidence from the police in various inquiries to say that there is an issue with migrant workers coming to the area not understanding the language and needing translators and facilities like that. Do you provide that direct to the police?
Ms Ashley: Yes. Some of our staff are on the books of the police. We do a lot of work unofficially as well.
Mr Hopkins: I think you are on dangerous ground here to be quite frank. The chief constable has retired today and I have been reading all the nice things in the papers that are probably coming from some of you gentlemen sitting round the table. The way we have seen it is that they do not actually record crimes. You try and report a crime and it does not happen.
Q1473 Albert Owen: The issue I was raising was mainly the language issue.
Mr Hopkins: That is separate. When Polish people run into trouble we have had difficulty getting the crime recorded.
Q1474 Albert Owen: And this is a separate inquiry that we are doing. It is the help offered to the migrant workers that I am looking for. For instance, you said there is contact with the police. If a solicitor was appointed to a migrant worker and there was a difficulty with languages, you would then assist the solicitor, would you?
Ms Ashley: Yes. We do assist quite a lot.
Q1475 Albert Owen: Thank you very much. Again, Mr Hopkins, in your opening remarks and in your memorandum you have touched on grants that you receive from the Welsh Assembly Government and that is up to 2009. What sort of business plan have you got post-2009?
Mr Hopkins: That is difficult to answer.
Ms Ashley: To carry on and improve the services which we are providing and if we cannot afford the time we will be doing outreach surgeries in Carmarthen and perhaps Swansea.
Q1476 Albert Owen: What sort of additional services? We have talked about the computer shop and IT skills. Do you envisage holding your own educational courses for migrant workers?
Ms Ashley: We do, and that is financed by the TGWU. Mainstream education is failing migrant workers because of their circumstances and because of their age. The provision of English lessons in English as a second language is accessible but it is not suitable for them. They seem to join the course and then just resign. We have talked to them and explored what the problem is. For a start, employers do not need them to speak English so there is no incentive there. We have established a conversation club which meets every two weeks and we encourage them to speak with volunteers. We are giving them "survival" English. We are acting out situations, which the volunteers help us to do, to break them in to speaking English and we given them materials, which we produce ourselves, and this seems to work. We get between 32 and 37 people at each meeting.
Q1477 Albert Owen: And you wish that to continue post-2009?
Ms Ashley: Yes.
Q1478 Albert Owen: Where do you see the funding coming from post-2009?
Ms Ashley: We will see what the situation will be like.
Mr Hopkins: I think it will largely depend on the economy. It depends on the input of fresh Polish workers. As it stands today Polish workers come from Poland every week. That is because of the agency situation and the way they operate in the food industry.
Q1479 Albert Owen: As managers, coming up to 2009, you will be looking at submitting another ---
Ms Ashley: We cannot be self-financing.
Mr Hopkins: We will have discussions with the Welsh Assembly Government in respect of that.
Q1480 Nia Griffith: I would like to carry on a little bit with the issue of the English language because you say that is one of the major problems that there is. Can you give us any indication of the reasons why you feel that there is a dropout rate from the course? Is it that the content is not suitable or the time of day?
Ms Ashley: It is pitched too high. They can choose the time of day, it is available seven days a week, but they cannot get the numbers to sustain the courses. With us it is different because we are advertising it as a social meeting, an opportunity to meet English speakers. We hold a raffle to encourage them to come, we provide refreshments and during it all we pass on the vital information which they need on whatever subject. If we are doing something about buying a car and putting a car on the road, we give them the vital information in Polish on how to do it and the same with banking or whatever problems they are most likely to encounter whilst living in Britain.
Q1481 Nia Griffith: Do you think there is a need for very specific learning materials for people coming into this country? For example, Tinopolus very recently had a lot of publicity about some excellent bilingual materials they are producing for schools. Is there a case for commissioning specific materials of the type that you have been developing which are totally practical and very, very much what people need?
Ms Ashley: The pitch needs to be lower.
Mr Hopkins: I think you have hit on something there. Somebody said to me once that the British Army could teach a raw recruit off the street a foreign language in ten weeks and put them into a foreign situation and they would survive there. These people are coming to us with no English at all. They are just parachuted into our society. How do we get them that level of English in that amount of time? I went to a grammar school. I was taught Welsh. I do not speak Welsh because it failed, so I am a failure in those terms and most of my contemporaries were in the same position. The language teaching is not particularly good at getting you to converse with people. There are issues there. We have spoken to some people who provide English professionally and they do it in a different way to what the educational system is doing, they do it in more of a conversationalist way. Our teachers from Poland have adapted some of those lessons into what we do on a fortnightly basis with Polish people and we are getting some results.
Ms Ashley: We are also getting interest from Bangor University and Swansea University about the methods that we are using. There was also the suggestion that educational funds be used to create a course and then that could be available in the rest of the country.
Q1482 Nia Griffith: It is a real pleasure to visit the Centre where you are working on a Friday evening. Nevertheless, you are still asking people who have done a long day's work to come out again in the evening. Do you think there is a case for forcing employers to provide English in the workplace when people are perhaps awake, early in the morning or whatever, because they are getting a huge economic benefit and they could be putting something back?
Ms Ashley: It is already available but there is not the take-up.
Q1483 Nia Griffith: Because the quality is not appropriate?
Ms Ashley: Yes. The employers do not really encourage it because they do not care whether they speak English or not because they have the line managers who speak a bit of English and that will do. As long as they can force them to work faster and faster in their own language employers are happy. That is in mass employment.
Q1484 Nia Griffith: Could there be a case for looking into it?
Ms Ashley: There is a case for looking into it for one-man bands where they have to work one to one. They need to be encouraged to learn English whenever it is available.
Q1485 Nia Griffith: You have also highlighted the problem of a lack of suitable materials available in Polish. What do you think are the main items that are lacking, and can you tell us about some of the work that you have been doing to plug those gaps?
Ms Ashley: We are working on it. As far as the materials are concerned, we are working with Carmarthenshire County Council and we are about to produce a very detailed welcome pack outlining every public service that is available and how to go about getting it. This pack is just about to be published. I have not seen a draft of it yet. The final adjustments are going in now. Up until now we have been providing the information ourselves through the Centre on anything that they may come across, from benefits to DVLA information, absolutely everything they are interested in, banking especially. Banking costs them dearly and it is just ignorance. They incur charges because they are not using their bank account as they are supposed to. They sign agreements but they do not know what they mean, what they are committing themselves to and they are incurring charges. Sometimes it can be a few hundred pounds lesson to learn how to use the bank account.
Q1486 Nia Griffith: I understand that some of the agencies pick up a lot of money for introducing customers to the banks.
Ms Ashley: That is what the banks do. When the new migrant comes, instead of registering them with the Home Office they open a bank account because obviously that is the cheapest way of paying their wages. So they give them an introductory letter. All the migrants have their ID cards. That is the basis on which the account can be opened.
Q1487 Nia Griffith: And the agency makes money out of that.
Ms Ashley: Yes.
Q1488 Nia Griffith: Could there be better use of that money?
Ms Ashley: It used to go to a private account and it used to be £40 for every introduction, but now it goes to the company. The company introduces somebody and they get a fee for that.
Q1489 Nia Griffith: Do you think there could be better use of that money than paying it to the companies?
Ms Ashley: Absolutely.
Q1490 Hywel Williams: I was intrigued about learning English. There is a great deal of expertise in teaching people to speak Welsh rather differently from the way you and I were taught, also at a grammar school. Have you had any contact with the people who very successfully teach adults to speak Welsh, which is more of a proposition than speaking English?
Ms Ashley: We have only met two Polish people who speak Welsh and they have been here for a long, long time, but the children have no problem whatsoever.
Q1491 Hywel Williams: There are methods of teaching adults a language which is entirely foreign to them. Teaching Welsh to people who speak English is quite a proposition. Teaching English to people who speak Polish is less of a proposition because English is everywhere. There is quite a lot of expertise required as to how to do that among people who teach Welsh. I just wondered if you had any contact with them.
Ms Ashley: We have not had any contact, no.
Q1492 Chairman: Are you aware of the Welsh Union Learning Fund project run by the Transport and General Workers' Union, now called Unite, in north Wales where they have been arranging to teach Polish bus drivers English and Welsh?
Mr Hopkins: They have been to see us. We are in close contact with them.
Ms Ashley: We have just made contact with a lady called Jennifer who is funded by the Welsh Assembly. She provides a fun approach to learning Welsh. We are organising an event for Polish mothers and children to take part in. If this is successful obviously we will help them to carry on with it.
Q1493 Mr David Jones: Ms Ashley, you have referred in your memo to Polish migrants forming their own 'ghettos', which I guess, as a Polish person, is not an expression that you would use lightly. Could you explain to the Committee how this process of ghettoization manifests itself, and the effect that it has upon social cohesion?
Ms Ashley: It seems to happen naturally because people tend to gravitate towards people who speak their own language. If they have been in the country longer or they know how to arrange things they turn to them for help. They feel safer in their own communities because they can communicate with these people. I am a victim myself. I came to Wales to escape a ghetto in Manchester. I lived in Manchester for 20 years and it was like living in a small village. You go to the Polish shop and you see Polish people, they are all interested in what you do, you are working with Polish people --- Well, I had enough! I chose this country because I liked a lot of things. This is the country of my choice.
Q1494 Mr David Jones: This phenomenon is now occurring in Wales, is that right?
Ms Ashley: In Wales that is what is happening. If somebody can speak a little bit of English they gravitate towards that person. If somebody finds a house in a certain location they seem to join together. There are clusters of them. We have had four successive migrations into Britain in the twentieth Century and it has happened time and time again. It is only valid for the first generation, for the parents and then once the children go to school there is no problem whatsoever, they are fully integrated. They do not even want to speak their own language unless their parents force them or send them to their own school.
Q1495 Mr David Jones: You also mentioned in your memorandum that the government at the time of opening the borders with Poland did not understand the social implications. How do you think that we can encourage the establishment of social cohesion in communities that do contain migrant workers in this country?
Ms Ashley: You cannot do it top-down. It has got to come from the grass roots like we are doing. You have to respond to the immediate need. The government cannot say, "You must integrate". People trust us because they know we are trying to help them help themselves. We are doing everyday things, things they take for granted. Every day people come and say, "Thank God you're here. I don't know what I would've done if the centre wasn't here". Sometimes they come about trivial things, somebody's phone, little things, but they rely on us. There would have been a lot more breaches of the law through ignorance rather than design. You were talking about indigenous populations having problems with the newcomers. We are trying to alleviate that. It is a direct response to what the need is that arises.
Q1496 Mr David Jones: At community scale level?
Ms Ashley: Yes. You mentioned about the government before they opened the borders. If people had gone out to Poland and sounded out Polish psyche, what they were thinking, what their ambitions were, what the majority of people wanted to do and what the economic situation in Poland was, they would have known that there would have been a flood of migrants coming here. They have always looked up to Britain. They fought together in the War. Britain was the icon for Polish people. They waited for the borders to be opened to be able to come here legally and just work, make some money and build houses or invest in businesses. They have their own ambitions. They cannot do this in Poland. There are no opportunities. They are seeking those opportunities here. Remember, the majority of them are highly educated people, people with degrees and they are wasted on packing meat. We have to take those opportunities as Britain since they are here and make the most of it. In order to prevent this we probably should have been thinking differently about how the Polish people were thinking before they opened the borders.
Q1497 Mark Williams: An integral part of social cohesion is going to be what you have said about the education system and children being a part of this. Have there been any particular challenges in the education system with children? I am an English speaker with two Welsh speaking daughters.
Mr Hopkins: We had the problem before the start of term where we knew children were going into the British educational system and they did not speak a word of English. We had meetings with the educationalists who said there was no money to do anything about it. We put it to them that they could sponsor some pre-school lessons and there was no change there. As a community-based organisation with some funding we did it ourselves. We said, "Okay then, if you're not prepared to do it we'll do it ourselves." We rented a home, we got the teachers in and we gathered the children together before they started school in September to acclimatise them, to give them an idea of what the classroom was going to be like, the sounds that they were going to be hearing in a school and the way the school is organised, so that they were not going from the moon straight into the British educational system which was completely alien to them. There was no real comprehension on the part of the authorities that they should be thinking in this way at all. That has certainly helped those children to integrate in those schools.
Q1498 Mark Williams: In the light of that experience and the good work you are obviously doing, has the view of the authorities changed? Is it changing?
Mr Hopkins: I would not like to say whether it has changed or not because the contact with educationalists at that level is not great. They make no contribution to the committees you sit on, do they?
Ms Ashley: No.
Q1499 Mr Martyn Jones: In your memorandum you are highly critical of agencies that employ migrant workers, and refer to work insecurity, low pay, intimidation in the workplace and dubious dismissal procedures as some of the many conditions to which migrant workers are exposed. I have heard some horrendous stories along those lines and I am in northeast Wales. I think it is a widespread issue. To what extent are you able to intervene in your organisation and solve such problems, and what support do you have available to you?
Ms Ashley: The trade unions.
Mr Hopkins: In 2004, on a Sunday morning, I was in the kitchen of the credit union and somebody stepped into the kitchen and I thought, "Oh my God, they've come for the money", but it was not that. The guy could not speak any English. I thought to myself, "Who is this chap? What is he trying to do?" I happened to look over his shoulder and I saw a Polish flag on the car outside and it clicked. I rung Halina immediately and she spoke to him. Within one week of that telephone conversation we had a banking hall, which is a fairly large room, full of Polish migrant workers all with problems relating to their workplace.
They were problems that we could not attend to, so we immediately brought in the trade union in an attempt to satisfy some of their problems. That has not gone as well as we would have liked it to have gone because the problems still remain. Some of those problems may be insolvable because they are on a political level in as much as we highlight the "O-hours" of a contract which we believe is the basis of all the ills that befall these poor people.
It gives power to the employer that has not been realised by employers since the last century in Britain. The way they operate it is vicious and callous, and they have no consideration for the people who work for them.
Some of these employers had a bad record prior to the incoming of migrant workers and they have gone from coming to a country that is fairly sophisticated in its labour market to employers who are on the very edge of that sophistication and it is a really bad deal.
There are no foreign people involved here; it is Welsh people who are exploiting them. The housing situation was dreadful but we have seen improvements in that. We have been badgering people and there has been an improvement, but it has not come in the public sector because the public sector turns the other way.
The public sector is not responding at all to the housing needs of migrant workers. I think what is tending to happen in the public sector is that is becoming a sink for people on social security. The low wage earner does not get a look in, and these are all low wage earners with families. They have found themselves in the high cost public sector having to find enormous rents. It is driving them into debt when they need not do so because the public sector has voids in housing. I had a meeting last week with the county council and I said how I found it quite ridiculous to see the voids in the streets when there are poor, low paid workers struggling in high cost accommodation.
Q1500 Mr Martyn Jones: The point I was trying to make was what can you do about the intimidation?
Mr Hopkins: We have had a meeting with the Gangmasters Licensing Authority. They sent two of their senior officers to see us and basically they gave the local agency a clean bill of health. They wrote back to us and said there was very little they could do following our conversations with them, which we found quite astonishing.
Q1501 Mr Martyn Jones: I am surprised to hear that you have not had any contact with the police.
Mr Hopkins: The police look the other way.
Q1502 Mr Martyn Jones: I have dealt with the police through the trade union in northeast Wales and we have had some success, although to be fair, the police in north Wales have got a Polish speaking officer and this has been a great help. Have you not found that in your area?
Mr Hopkins: We have. At the street level the police are fine, but when it comes to the reporting of crime - and it happens in our society as well - they come up with these figures all the time that there is no crime and yet we are working with people on a daily basis and find that crime is happening all the time and it is not recorded. We have taken Polish people to the police station to record a crime and we are having to tell the man we want it written in the book because he fails to do it. We have had terrible rows.
Q1503 Mr Martyn Jones: In your memorandum you state that migrant workers are sought after by employers because of their work ethic and skills and that is something we have found, that they are valued as workers. What steps do you take to communicate the fact that, as is the case as far as we can tell, they are not taking our jobs or jobs off British workers? Are you actually trying to get that over to local people, that they are not taking their jobs?
Mr Hopkins: To be quite frank, there is an undercurrent of people that actually say that. I live in a street where I have Polish neighbours and Welsh neighbours and we are getting on fine. I do not come across the problems. I think a lot of it is fermented by newspapers. I think that newspapers and journalism ferment these things. They print fabricated stories that justify the way that they think. I think Daily Mail/Associated Press newspapers should be named, and I will name them, for the way that they operate with their reporters. They print scurrilous lies about Eastern European women. It is ridiculous what we have had to put up with.
Ms Ashley: We had to turn to our MP because of what our local newspaper has done and how much harm it causes through totally unfounded allegations.
Q1504 Mr Martyn Jones: I have to agree about Associated Press because I had to take a case against them when they were telling lies about me recently. You note in your memorandum that many migrants are over-qualified for the jobs that they do. How could migrant's skills be better utilised so as to contribute further to the Welsh economy?
Ms Ashley: There should be a more comprehensive way of translating the qualifications and helping them in the job market to fill the posts that they are qualified for. In our small way we have succeeded in putting a dental nurse in a job. It took 18 months for her to be able to do her job. She is a good catch. She has 20 years or so experience, but it took so long for her to become registered in her profession. We could do something about simplifying the system or making it more user-friendly.
Q1505 Mr Martyn Jones: Who do you think might help? Government? Local government?
Ms Ashley: I will leave it to the powers that be. It is not really up to our Association to judge or comment. If the facility was there we would be using it.
Q1506 Albert Owen: You mentioned how that when Poland joined the European Union the gates opened and floods of people were coming into this country and there were problems and you are assisting with those problems. Is it not the situation - and we found this when we were out in Poland - that people who are actually returning, either out of choice or forced back, are becoming mentors out there and giving advice on what it is like in Britain, not just about the problems but assisting them as well? Do you liaise with groups in Poland who perhaps the agents are also using to get people into this country?
Ms Ashley: No, we do not. There are so many newspapers, magazines, information on the Internet that they can pick and choose. It has been written so much in the press where most of these people have come from and we have got the clippings from the press warning them, naming names and they are still coming, they are still flooding in. They are still paying a lot of money for the journey on the bus just to end up in the meat packing factory in Llanelli.
Q1507 Albert Owen: Whose responsibility do you think it is to offer that information in Poland?
Ms Ashley: You cannot really stop it. They have to judge for themselves which information is good. If people are desperate they will not be checking the information or verifying anything. They just think my neighbour managed to do it, my neighbour is building a house, so I should be able to do it as well. So he/she goes and borrows £200 and pays the agency. They have three recruitment offices in Poland. That is why there is a pressure to bring them from Poland constantly, because that is how they make money, on turning over those people.
Q1508 Albert Owen: Do you think both governments have a responsibility?
Ms Ashley: The Polish government washes its hands off them. We have hosted Polish consuls in the course of our activities with the Association and basically their opinion is if they cannot manage here they should not be here.
Q1509 Albert Owen: I know in the Republic of Ireland they have inserts of Polish media inside telling the news in the Polish language. Is that something you have considered in the area with a growing migrant population? Some of this is unedited; it is from the Polish community itself.
Mr Hopkins: I do not think there is any need for that. We want to see people integrated into our society.
Q1510 Albert Owen: The reason for it in the Republic of Ireland is that they did not feel they were getting all the information via the media or that it was distorted, which you have identified in your area. They have found that by doing it through Polish journalists producing Polish inserts in newspapers it is more balanced.
Ms Ashley: We provide a lot of Polish newspapers free at the moment because we have not got the funds to buy them. There are over 40,000 businesses in London and a lot of them are living off these Polish migrants that are doing all sorts of things and charging them for it. There is plenty of information. As far as the British press is concerned, getting them to pick up the British newspaper or getting them to listen to the news or to have British television on is a job. We are encouraging them to do that because obviously they are learning English if they use the media. This is a big problem because they have got Pulsat or their own satellite.
Mr Hopkins: They could all be in Warsaw. They know what is happening in Poland faster than anybody. It is a small world.
Q1511 Hywel Williams: Mr Atkins, you spoke a little earlier on about the housing situation and you said that the public authorities have turned their backs on migrants. I am dismayed to hear this. I would like you to explain a little bit of why you think that. How is this communicated, the public housing situation, to migrant workers? Do they understand the difficulties of getting into that public housing system?
Mr Hopkins: We try to explain it to them because as they stay longer with us they become more aware of their surroundings and they become more aware of the difficulties they have with housing and the costs of it. They are brought here by the agency. They are put into agency accommodation which is usually overcrowded and overpriced, so if they have got any savvy they quickly move away from that and then things can happen to them, eg they may lose their work. In terms of the housing, they want to move away from that into better conditions normally, but the public sector is not available to them in Llanelli. It may be because it is in short supply.
Q1512 Hywel Williams: But there are restrictions as well in terms of the fact that you have to have residency, for example, are there not?
Mr Hopkins: Yes, the residency thing comes into it. That is another issue that we want to highlight where the agencies are concerned because the agency sends the Home Office registration document off. I had a lady in front of me only yesterday morning that had paid £90 to the agency for her registration document. She is having insufficient work with the agency to keep alive and she has now gone for another job. That new employer is saying they have got to have her Home Office document. So she goes to the agency and she comes back to me with a receipt from the agency in Polish, which we are able to interpret, which I want to give to the new employer and I said that it was insufficient, that I wanted the receipt that she had actually paid this amount to the Home Office and the number. The agency said there was no way she was having that. There are problems in relation to that. In terms of housing, I think the Welsh Assembly Government has got to take a look at that because they have got a responsibility for housing. In Swansea it would appear, from what Polish people tell us, they get much easier access into public housing than they do in Carmarthenshire. There is something somewhere there.
Q1513 Hywel Williams: I had a case last week of someone who had been working for a year without legislation at all and they had huge problems when they moved on. You also mention in your memorandum the problems that people have in accessing dentistry and maternity services. What steps are being taken to address that and to improve the system?
Mr Hopkins: They have employed four Polish dentists in Llanelli ---
Ms Ashley: One has gone.
Mr Hopkins: --- from Poland to work with the health sector. People everywhere have difficulties with dentistry in the National Health Service in Wales and I think that is being addressed not just for Polish people but for everybody that wants to access the national health dentistry system. It has been diabolical.
Q1514 Hywel Williams: What about maternity services, is that a problem? You mention them specifically on page 4.
Mr Hopkins: We have done a lot of work on maternity services.
Ms Ashley: CAVS and the Association have produced a leaflet which they are going to print. It is coming out any day now. It lists and explains every service provided by the National Health Service, telephone numbers, where to get it, where to go for help, so that when they land from wherever they would get it in their own language, it is available to them. That is how much they have done. In the very beginning we had terrible trouble getting Polish people in as patients. Nobody knew whether they were entitled to the service or not.
The last thing employers want to tell them is that they are entitled to statutory sick pay. As I say, there were three cases of people who died in north Wales. Luckily I have not come across anything more serious than high temperatures, burst ulcers and things like that where we have had to take people to hospital. In north Wales I do not think they knew where to go for help.
Q1515 Hywel Williams: I wanted to ask you about extreme situations, such as homelessness or mental health crimes. That happens in the migrant community. How is it responded to? Are migrant workers themselves thinking this could be organised better? Do they have any ideas themselves?
Ms Ashley: They are not organised at all. Whatever we provide for them, that is it. We have tried to organise a mother and children's group, there are quite a few Polish mothers and they are scared of the financial responsibility. They will not do anything. You have got to do it for them.
Q1516 Hywel Williams: I am thinking about the mental health issue. I was formerly a mental health social worker and I sectioned somebody who was Polish.
Mr Hopkins: That is a real problem. The first instance we came across it was when we had a man who we were friendly with who had come to us and we were dealing with some problems for him and he just disappeared. We discovered that he was in prison, but he had not committed a crime in the sense that he had purposefully done so. He had a mental state and he was locked up. He had been through the courts, he had had what was available to him, oral interpretation or whatever they had there, he had had his legal representative or whatever was available and he still ended up in prison. He should not have gone there, but the people who were dealing with him failed to recognise the problem. He spent five months in jail. He went to the courts in Carmarthen where the case was absolutely quashed by the judge. He should never have gone to prison. He came back to us the same day he went back to Poland.
Q1517 Hywel Williams: Are there any specific self-help groups for Polish people?
Mr Hopkins: We had a meeting last week with the Red Cross because the Red Cross have come to us now and said that they are changing - I do not know if this is for publication yet - the way that they are operating. They are looking now to work amongst migrant workers because the definitions are changing a little bit.
Ms Ashley: They put them all in one basket, migrants, immigrants, asylum seekers, the whole lot.
Mr Hopkins: They are all asylum seekers, that is what most people think or the Daily Mail would have us believe. The prejudice is there. The Red Cross is now looking at this section of migrant workers. What we have been saying is that when people get dismissed from work for whatever reason and very often it is not their fault, they go off sick and they lose their jobs.
They have burnt all their bridges in Poland, but there are no public funds for them, there is nowhere for them to go, so they get thrown out on the streets and nobody can help them. We have had whip rounds in the office and we have looked after some people like that. Halina has had people to stay in her house and so have others. There is no way the authorities can spend any money on them and so they just wander on the streets.
Q1518 Hywel Williams: How does the social security system respond?
Ms Ashley: They cannot. The door is closed. They are not entitled to anything. Social security would not talk to them. This is a big loophole in the system. It is a breach of human rights.
Mr Hopkins: This is where we have brought up the criminality bit. When you get criminals that have got no means of support, what are we doing about them? There is this question of deportation. We took the firm line they should be deported.
We take the same line as Mr Prodi in Italy, that these people are not wanted in our society because they have wronged in their own countries very often and they are coming in here. There is no public funding for anybody that finds themselves in prison and comes out. They have not done a year, they have no insurance and so they will not get anything. We are landed with people who could be dangerous in our society.
Q1519 Mark Williams: You talk in your memorandum about the lack of collaboration between European police forces. Are there any other examples you could give to illustrate your frustration at why the European police forces are not cooperating?
Ms Ashley: On 10 August or so our chief constable, who resigned today, went on television and said that there was no cooperation between Polish police forces, they have got no data to exchange or anything like that. He said that British police forces were ready to cooperate with Polish police but nothing is happening. Basically it is a free-for-all here as far as crime is concerned.
Q1520 Mark Williams: How big a problem is that in Llanelli? Quantify that for me.
Ms Ashley: There is a problem, maybe not to the British population, but there is a lot of crime perpetrated amongst the Polish population and people are so intimidated and frightened.
They would not go and testify because, for a start, our police do not want to know and they are too afraid to testify. They do not trust the police. We get a reputable firm deliberately seeking big guys as security. Some of them we know got life sentences but they served only 15 or 16 years for murder.
There is a whole family of them. They are all big guys. Everybody is afraid of them. Polish people know that they have got contacts in Poland as well. So whatever happens, if they testified against them here probably their families will suffer in Poland. It is all done sort of Mafia style. These people do not have to work. They go and have a drink in some company and then if they do not have any money, they grab them by the throat, they smash their head against the wall, get the card, get the PIN number out of the person, basically squeeze it out of them and they go and empty their cash machine.
It usually happens after the wages are paid, which is every two weeks, and then they bring the card back, throw it at them and that is it. One boy was particularly badly beaten up. His mother came with him and she said she would have to send him to Poland. I asked her to come with me to the police and to tell the police what has happened and we will put a stop to it, but she said no way because they will let him out and if they let him out her life is not worth living. There have been stabbings, beatings, all kinds of things amongst the Polish community. Nobody speaks about it.
Q1521 Mark Williams: You also mentioned throughout the morning session about the lack of enforcement. Can you elaborate a bit more on that? Why is that so? How is that problem going to be addressed?
Mr Hopkins: Every problem we have addressed with the TUC and trade unions as far as the work is concerned. We have got every possible law in place but nobody is enforcing it.
We have got a duty for the employer to have sight of the worker's registration document within a month of employing someone. They do not even know what the worker's registration certificate is. Nobody is informing them or enforcing that. Apparently there is a £1,000 fine for not having it. This is important to us. It has been put in place for a reason, because these people acquire their entitlement if they want to stay for a longer period of time here, like two years or five years or even longer, which is their right, but they are losing it.
We had people lose benefit and that is really life saving income support. One person became ill while doing a job here and she could not get anything because her Home Office document was registered too late. As far as employment law is concerned, unfair dismissals, we really need a strong tribunal to deal with cases like that so that a grieved employee can go there, place the case in front of the tribunal, without the fuss of solicitors and the process being as protracted as it is now. It should be made simple and easy and contain the need for enforcement either in the form of fines or jail or whatever, but it should be there as a deterrent.
Q1522 Nia Griffith: You mentioned the difficulties of people coming to the country with criminal records and obviously you will be aware that I have been pushing the Home Office to get a Sex Offenders Register across the whole of Europe. Would you see that as something that is absolutely vital? If we have our own Sex Offenders Register, what is the point of it if we can have people coming in from other countries who we do not know about? It is vital to protect our own community and to protect the legitimate Polish workers who can all be tarred with the same brush. If there was a proper system they would presumably feel a lot safer themselves.
Mr Hopkins: I agree entirely. We do not really live in a world where we come across sex offenders so often. It is criminals we are concerned about really. There are stories, I cannot prove them, which go around and they are that some of these agencies actually empty jails and bring them here just to make sure that they have got the labour force.
Ms Ashley: There is another kind which comes here, people with postponed sentences, ie people who have been sentenced in Poland and they have to wait until a place in jail is free so they can go and do their sentence. I think they do it in America. They obviously do it in Poland.
Mr Hopkins: When the hotel room in Poland is not ready they come here and they never go back!
Ms Ashley: We have come across a few in dire straits, without any means of support and we could not do anything because they have not been here long enough. I asked if it would not be better for them to go to Poland. The guy had not got a penny to his name. We committed ourselves that we would deliver him to the Consulate and from then on the Polish authorities would take care of him, but he said he could not do that and then it all spilled out, that if he went to Poland he would go to jail. So no matter how he sees it, he would probably prefer to live on the streets here and be free than to go to jail and do his sentence.
Q1523 Mr David Jones: Ms Ashley, you have painted a very disturbing picture of criminal activity amongst the Polish community here. Is it your belief that Polish organised crime in Poland is deliberately targeting the immigrant community in this country?
Ms Ashley: I would not say deliberately, but it is possible, it is happening. Polish people believe so. The Polish are terrified of them.
Q1524 Mr David Jones: You used the word Mafia.
Ms Ashley: I said Mafia style.
Q1525 Mr David Jones: We know what the Mafia did amongst the Italian community in America.
Ms Ashley: This is the same thing. It is intimidation, it is frightening the children who are left in Poland and it is frightening the rest of the family if they do not provide the money that they want.
Q1526 Mr David Jones: Is it your belief that this is organised?
Ms Ashley: It is organised to an extent. Certain families are doing it or certain gangs. I would not say they are organised on a big scale, but it is definitely a certain group of people.
Q1527 Mr David Jones: Is it a growing problem in your opinion?
Ms Ashley: We are only talking about a small area, but definitely people like that must be in every Polish community here.
Q1528 Chairman: Should I be surprised that in all the evidence you have given you have not mentioned the Catholic Church? There is one other large migrant community in Wales today which shares with the Polish community the fact that they are strong supporters of the Catholic Church and that is the Philipino community.
Ms Ashley: We deal with them as well.
Q1529 Chairman: And also in Port Talbot. Could you tell us about the interface between yourselves and the Catholic Church and also the interface, or the lack of it, between trade unions and the Catholic Church, particularly with regard to helping to get trade union recognition in some of these places where migrant labour exists?
Ms Ashley: There is no Polish church as such. It is all about communication. Although they are a very religious nation, they do not go to the standard British masses because they would not understand what is being said. The priest cannot convey any information to them. They have got a Polish mass once a month for those who know. We advertise it for the priest. I asked the Catholic priest for some cooperation, I invited him to the Centre, to come and meet the people and to invite them all to the masses. When you enter the mass they give you a service sheet and I offered to translate it into Polish in order to make the Polish people go to church and they do not. Only the ones who are preparing children for their First Communion and Confirmation and those who have children in Catholic schools are going to church. In other places congregations have doubled and more but not in Llanelli and I do not know why it is.
Q1530 Chairman: In other places meaning where, in Wales?
Ms Ashley: It is all over the country. We are talking about organisations that help migrants. Mr Hopkins: There are some problems in Cardiff with the church because there is a Polish club in Newport Road in Cardiff which has been there for many, many years, probably since the end of the last War, and the new migrants do not get any entry into it because the Catholic priest or some sort of committee is not prepared to modernise or move into today's world with it. They come to us and we have been trying to help them to get their ideas sorted and we are getting a similar association established in Cardiff. I think it is the leadership within the Catholic Church very often. It depends upon the attitude of the local priest and how much he is prepared to commit for that particular work.
Q1531 Chairman: We were in Poland earlier this year and we actually met the representatives of Solidarnosc because that union is much weaker than we perceive it to be, but they have international links through the European TUC and they work with certain unions like the GMB and the TGWU but very much at a national and international level and not at the local level. They were keen to be helping but they did not have the resources.
Ms Ashley: We do cooperate with the TUC. They have provided a lot of very good literature as well about workers' rights.
Mr Hopkins: I think the Home Office have got to be congratulated there. They were pretty quick off the mark in producing a document. The employers were not using it. It was produced for employers to give to migrant workers with a workers' registration certificate. It gave all the details that they needed to know, but employers never bothered to hand it out.
Q1532 Chairman: As you are aware, the Welsh Assembly Government is funding a number of studies into migrant labour currently. Are you involved in that at all?
Ms Ashley: They have not asked us yet.
Q1533 Chairman: Is there anything else that we have not covered today?
Mr Hopkins: I do not think so.
Chairman: Do you think we have had a fair hearing from you? If you there are other matters that you think about subsequently after you go away, we would be very pleased to receive further information from you. We are extremely grateful to you for your frankness and the comprehensive way in which you have answered the questions today. Thank you very much.
Well I hope you read it all or least the emboldened bits. It would be nice to see someone take it away and use this kind of information in a more hard hitting way then this blog can do.