March 14, 2008 / 4:51 PM / 10 years ago

Is the love affair with Polish plumbers draining away?

LONDON (Reuters) - Poles coming to the UK have been accustomed to headlines praising their plumbers, waitresses and fruit pickers.

<p>Polish plumber Ryszard Walkowicz works at an apartment in Warsaw February 13, 2006. REUTERS/Katarina Stoltz</p>

They work hard, do the jobs Britons are too lazy to do and are cheap.

Stories about them pushing down salaries and taking jobs from the locals have been largely drowned out by the all the positive publicity.

But now the negative voices are growing louder, says the largest organisation representing Poles in the UK.

Local newspapers, mainly outside the big cities, are increasingly reporting cases of violence and abuse against the community, the Federation of Poles in Great Britain said.

“What is particularly worrying is the rise in hate crimes against Poles,” said Wiktor Moszczynski, research officer for the federation.

”Local media have written ... reports about Poles being beaten up, fire-bombed or abused -- both physically and verbally.

He said he believed most Britons were still sympathetic towards the Poles, but he feared the negative minority were beginning to find their voice.

“Britons know there are good and bad Poles, but on the whole, they think Poles have done a good job,” Moszczynski added.

“But those with negative feelings are growing more vocal.”

The federation believes the Daily Mail has helped fan the flames with headlines such as “East European Immigrants with cancer ‘could swamp the NHS’”.

It has written to the Press Complaints Commission about what it calls the Mail’s “consistently” negative reports.

The Daily Mail strongly denied it was anti-Polish and said it had written articles praising the skills of their workers.

Moszczynski did acknowledge there was general concern about the number of Poles and other East Europeans entering the country.

The official figure is 800,000, but no one really knows how many there are.

“Even the established Polish community was surprised by the sheer numbers coming over,” Moszczynski said.

“We have organisations, and we were overwhelmed.”

He added: “Even reasonable people want to know how many there are and when they will stop coming. Otherwise, the agenda will be set by people who are not reasonable.”

The BBC’s recent series “White” featured a programme called “The Poles Are Coming” in which a farmer praised the keenness of the East Europeans to work in his fields outside Peterborough, in contrast with a group of locals who preferred to go on the dole.

The leader of Peterborough City Council, John Peach, told Reuters the area was finding it hard to cope because of the lack of government funds to deal with the extra demand on services.

“We have not had social tensions, but there are problems,” he added.

These included gripes that the East Europeans don’t use their recycling bins properly, and that lots of young rowdy men tend to live in multiple occupancy flats.

Professor David Coleman of Oxford University said we should not be surprised that relations between Britons and Poles may be turning sour after a period of unqualified good news.

“Although the immigration has probably been an enormous benefit to employers, such as farmers, and customers who want plumbers, it has not been good for the greater mass of the population who might otherwise be offered these jobs and should be encouraged to work,” he said.

He said any tension was natural.

”I would not automatically take these complaints as unkind or silly, but natural.

“Having a gross inflow of 700,000 immigrants, mainly Poles, arrive in a country, being jolly useful and more eager than the locals, does not help us solve our own problems.”

These include getting those aged between 16 and 24 and who are not in education, training or employment into jobs.

Editing by Steve Addison

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