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D.Kay and R. Miles, ‘Refugees or Migrant Workers? The Case of European Volunteer Workers in Britain (1946-1951)’.

Kay and R. Miles article, ‘Refugees or Migrant Workers? The Case of European Volunteer Workers in Britain aims to explore the tensions in government policy towards the initial recruitment, selection, and placing of volunteers in employment in Britain. The article begins by mentioning how the displaced people were specifically recruited under a Labour Government to help resolve a situation of acute labour shortage, conservatively estimated at around one million jobs. Britain was looking for unskilled workers to carry out essential jobs. They were viewed as making a positive contribution towards British economic recovery, especially compared to the immigrants arriving during the 1930s, who were viewed as being burdens on the economy due to the recession they were arriving in.

Both labour and the conservatives agreed that displaced persons were needed not just economically but to add to the growth of future British generations. This was because of their willingness to be free and adopt British values. The displaced persons scheme began in October 1946 by firstly accepting roughly 1,000 women from Eastern Europe for residential domestic work. This then led to other schemes being utilised like the Westward Ho which did not specify job roles until after the refugees arrived, creating a more flexible response to labour shortages as they arose. This scheme was carried out between 1947 and 1949. The term ‘displaced person’ had negative connotations so was then changed to ‘European volunteer worker’. By the end of recruitment, roughly 91,000 EVW’s were brought into the country.

The government preferred short term workers because they could be repatriated. This was not as easy to do with refugees that were stateless. They also preferred those from western countries as their way of living was like Brits, so groups like the Polish were difficult to assimilate therefore not wanted. When it came to eligibility, men had to be no older than 50 and women 40. They were not only judged on how well they may carry out a job but were extremely vetted on hygiene, demeanour, and habits. This was because they most likely were going to settle in Britain so had to assimilate well. Baltic women working in hospitals were positively portrayed throughout Britain for their beaty and good work ethic.

EVW’s could not leave their jobs with official consent. This led to large concentrations of women (95% in textiles and domestic service) and men (70% in coal mining and agriculture) working in specific jobs. They were paid the same as British workers but could only be hired if a Brit was not available for employment. They were also not allowed to create or join a trade union and were first to go if redundancies were announced. EVW’s were deported if they were not in good shape, so if they had venereal diseases or TB as they shouldn’t be a burden on an already overstretched health service. However, this was later reversed on humanitarian grounds and TB was treated by the British.

It is noted that the EVW were usually not allowed to change jobs. However, the Ministry of Labour quickly found out that they lacked authority to impose these rules as the threat of deportation was usually a bluff. This was because the Home Office had to sign off on individual cases so were not worth the time. So, it was common for EVW’s to jump between careers in search for better pay. Women ad men were also allowed to leave their jobs to reunite with their partners. This meant that men were willing to take jobs in less traditional sectors like textiles – 560 men joined their wives in textiles. Due to the difficulties of practically deporting EVW’s, they were eventually allowed to stay in Britain longer than they were contracted by 1953 and they were now referred to as Foreign Workers recruited under the Westward Ho scheme.

This article is effective at showing how desperate Britain were to continue their economic growth. It was also interesting to see how the British had to contend with the issue that arose from taking in significant European workers.

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