Migrant workers: Employer defends Barking casual roadside labour system

PUBLISHED: 07:00 03 February 2016 | UPDATED: 07:53 03 February 2016

Labourers outside the Wickes store in Barking, looking for non-contract  jobs by the roadside

Labourers outside the Wickes store in Barking, looking for non-contract jobs by the roadside


Not everyone hanging around on the corner is after a job – some are prospective employers.

First person viewpoint

Few people were willing to speak to me – with “I can’t speak English” used as the typical get-out clause.

Of those willing to hold a conversation, several asked me how much I will pay them.

“I need work, why would I speak to you if you don’t give me money?” one gentleman asks me – the conspicuous outsider.

But it wasn’t a hostile environment, just a desperate one.

A lot of the men – while I was there, only men were to be seen – had been standing there since 6am or 7am in the bitter winter cold, waiting for passing vehicles.

Whenever a van or car pulled into the road, hands would go out, like a crowd flagging down a bus.

If the motorist stopped, a number of people would gather round the driver’s window, hoping to secure a day’s work.

If they weren’t picked, it was back to the pavement, shuffling around to try and stay warm.

A 30-year-old man from Romania, who said his name was Chris, said the best way of finding a good worker was to spend some time weighing up the potential workforce with his own eyes.

A self-employed building contractor, he comes down to pick up some causal workers whenever he has a job that needs doing quickly.

“I try to look at everyone’s faces,” he explained. “You can tell if they’re serious or not.

“If you’re serious and really want work, it’s not hard to get a job here. I’ll pay between £60 and £80 depending on what the job is.

“It’s a good system – it helps them out and it helps me out.

“It’s just people here to work – it’s not dangerous.”

Although some people come down in cars and vans to pick up labourers, prompting a flurry of activity, Chris insists it’s much easier for him to stay silent.

“I try to hide my interest or everyone comes over to you,” he added. “I prefer to stay here where I can see everyone.”

Although unique to the borough, it’s not unique to London.

When Chris can’t get work the Beckton-based builder uses a similar system in Seven Sisters.

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