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Mark Ellse: Migrants know you cannot buck the black market


The owners of the restaurants that cluster around the harbour in Kyrenia in Northern Cyprus know that one will give in eventually. The question is to whom. Their touts, or the owners themselves, are shameless in their importuning, telling one the virtues of their own particular fare and the special offers they have available, as one takes an evening stroll. It’s not clear why one does choose one restaurant rather than another. There is certainly no overt difference between them. Perhaps the choice is entirely random and the proprietors know that, provided their staff make similar noises to their neighbours, they will get their share of the tourist trade.

There was something that struck me about the clarity of the English of the waiter who attended us one evening. He told us that he had spent six years in England, working in a variety of catering establishments in Yorkshire. Adil was entirely frank about how he came to be in England. He had entered with a tourist visa and overstayed. It took no effort at all to find jobs, some of them in the outlets of well known chains of restaurants. Adil enjoyed working in England. The pay was good, as well, he told us. If you are Pakistani (which is where Adil came from) you can get £2 and hour. ‘Poles can get £3 an hour,’ he said without a trace of resentment. He had been entirely happy in England and had saved quite a bit of money but he wanted to come back to Cyprus where there were more prospects of owning his own business. A little older and much more experienced than the average restaurant worker in Kyrenia, he was earning the equivalent of about £500 per month, and managing to save most of that. One knew that he would be successful.

I could not help but ask him what his academic qualifications were. ‘I’m doing my second masters now,’ he told me. ‘My first degree was in maths and then I did a masters in tourism. I’m now doing a masters in business administration.’

What chance has the half-soaked bottom end of the UK labour force got in competition with such alternatives? Adil et al couldn’t care a fig about the minimum wage or, for that matter, any component of our restrictive labour legislation. They’ll happily sign a timesheet for half the hours that they work, be paid half the minimum wage provided that they get a job, not even expect holiday pay and would think that we were insane in even contemplating paternity leave. In the retail restaurant trade where cash abounds, they are probably not even on the books.

‘Ah yes,’ as David Cameron would say, ‘we must crack down on illegal labour.’ And so, perhaps, we should. But when the legislation is so far adrift from the real market, the black market booms. The adverts remind us that we need to set up a pension scheme, even if we employ a single person. I found that hard enough in a business with 100 employees and all the backup one had. Your average builder will certainly never again employ a mate. Growing from a one-man-band to a small business was once complicated. Now it is simply impossible for the average tradesman. No longer will it happen. And, with the steadily rising minimum wage, it won’t be economic either. By the time one has diverted one’s own expensive time to the bureaucracy of having someone at the other end of that heavy piece of wood one needs to carry, it turns out to be much easier to do the whole job oneself.

That is apart from Adil, of course, who works in a mate’s restaurant. Bright lad. Seems to catch on quickly. And for a tenner in cash will give you a hand for a couple of hours, no questions asked. Boris Johnson, Nick Clegg, Vince Cable, they all pay cash. That’s the way to do it, they’d all agree. You’d be daft not to.

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Mark Ellse
Mark Ellse
Mark Ellse is a physicist and author. He is a former headmaster, independent school inspector and A level chief examiner.

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