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Wednesday, July 20, 2011
WESTERN EUROPE: Why U.K. employers prefer foreign workers
In this June 30, 2011 photo, demonstrators march with placards as they take part in a protest to mark the nationwide day of strikes in London. British teachers and public service workers swapped classrooms and offices for picket lines as hundreds of thousands walked off the job to protest pension cuts. Photo: AP.
Studies show that British employers prefer foreign or immigrant workers to Britons because of their attitude to work.
A piece of advice that newly arrived Indian immigrants often get from their British friends is — never do anything “silly” on a weekend because you are not likely to get any help until Monday. “I remember being told jokingly when I arrived on these shores 30 years ago: don't die on a Friday afternoon unless you've pre-booked your funeral arrangements!” a Bangladeshi minicab driver said.
When it comes to work practices, there is no dearth of national stereotypes — the “French leave,” “Spanish practices,” the “Third World syndrome.” Britons, much to the irritation of their European neighbours, claim to work the longest hours in Europe seldom failing to have a dig at the French for their “measly” 35-hour week and long, leisurely lunches.
Britain, they stress, is the only country which has an “opt-out” from the European Union's working time directive that imposes a 48-hour maximum working week on its member-states. The British opt-out means that U.K.-based employees may work longer if they wish but they cannot be forced to do so.
Claims by a European think tank, the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, in a report three years ago that Britons were among the “hardest working people in Europe” with only Romanians and Bulgarians putting in longer hours received tub-thumping coverage in the British media. The uber-nationalist Telegraph made a point of rubbing in the bit that said the French worked the least hours.
“By comparison, the French spend an average of just 37.7 hours a week at work, effectively giving them an entire afternoon off compared with British workers,” the newspaper noted gleefully adding: “And while working hours in many parts of Europe are generally falling, those in Britain are rising — from 40.7 hours last year in 2006.”
Not quite persuaded by these claims, a well-known British stand-up comic decided to check it out for himself and found that the picture was not quite as rosy as he had been led to believe. In a hilarious piece, “At All work and no play?” in The Guardian, Dave Cohen wrote how a senior EU official protested ‘non, non, non' when he asked whether it was a fact that Brits were the hardest working people in all of Europe after the Romanians and Bulgarians.