No Gain Without Pain

Sorana Stanescu

Finding work during a recession typically takes time and effort. For some, however, the search for employment can end up costing more than its worth.

Imagine that you are a Romanian national who wants to work as a chef or chambermaid in the UK. This is a perfectly legitimate aspiration, because after all, as an EU citizen you are entitled to seek employment in other EU nations.

You start off by paying a recruitment agency £500 (€620) to find you a job. Upon completing your first month of employment in Britain, you pay another agency the remainder of the finding fee – a further £500.

However, you cannot embark upon your new career in the UK without applying for a National Vocational Qualification (NVQ). The course takes a year to complete and costs at least £800 (€1,000).

The news that you must obtain this qualification is broken to you over the course of a 15-minute premium-rate phone call to the recruitment agency. This sets you back a further £15 (€19).

By now, your quest for employment in the UK has cost you well over €2,000.

The sum is a small fortune, regardless of whether you already have a job in Romania, where the average salary is €450. If you were looking for work in the UK because you couldn’t find any at home, the €2,000 would have to be conjured out of loans or precious savings.

Many Romanians and Bulgarians have to rely on recruitment agencies to find employment in the UK because of restrictions imposed by the British government when their countries joined the EU in 2007.

The rules make it technically impossible for a Romanian chef or waiter to knock on the door of a London restaurant and start work the next day. Instead, they have to secure a job before they leave for the UK. Then they have to apply for a specific work permit as well as registering for an NVQ, which eases their way into employment.

The paperwork to get all this sorted is extremely complex. Many recruitment agencies offer to expedite the process, for a charge of around €1,000. The fee is not illegal – but some people are questioning whether it’s really fair.

In the construction industry, similar rules have exposed Romanian and Bulgarian workers to exploitation. Over the coming months, I shall uncover more about the effects of these restrictions.

Fellow Bio

/en/file/show/Sorana Stanescu.jpg

Sorana Stanescu

 Sorana Stanescu has worked for the Romanian press and for BBC TV's flagship investigative show, Panorama.