1 Jul 2011

‘Immigrants do the work you won’t touch’

Jamal Osman – a Somali refugee who’s lived in Britain for 12 years – gives his personal reply to Iain Duncan Smith’s call for British firms to recruit British workers, rather than those from abroad.

Jamal Osman

Since I came to this country in 1999, as a refugee from Somalia, I’ve done all sorts of jobs: working as a laundry assistant; in a warehouse; picking and packing fruit and vegetables; forklift driver; van driver and a minicab driver. And always I found myself performing better than the Brits or doing “non-British jobs”. So why?

My first job was to work in a factory, laundering bed and table linen for the hotel industry, earning £2.80 an hour. There were only a few Brits (and they were managers) out of hundreds of us because, apparently, the pay wasn’t “a British rate” and the task was very hard.

I had to stand a 10-hour-shift in one location, picking wet bed linen from a basket and putting it on a machine for ironing. Also, I was competing against a fast-moving machine.

From day one, the managers made it clear to me: “If you don’t reach 200 bed linen per hour, you are out of the door.” And there were dozens of people looking for work everyday waiting me to get the sack.

So, rather than complaining about it, most of the foreign forces were competing for overtime. Tell me if a 20-year-old British man could do that? No chance.

Who’s serving you? Who’s doing the low-paid jobs? Who’s doing the “undesirable” tasks? It’s us: immigrants.

In 2000, I worked in a warehouse in West London where the job involved heavy lifting. I was more than happy to do it as were my fellow immigrant-colleagues. But most Brits, who were coming through recruitment agencies, were not even lasting a day. For them, that wasn’t “a British job”. They were apparently too good to do that type of work.

While studying at University, I worked as a minicab driver on weekends. I’m sure most of you love a night out and hate working on weekends or “unsocial hours”. So you, the Brits, enjoy life and we, the foreigners, are left to deal with the fallout. We take the drunken ones home safely, who are often the most abusive and the most horrible members of the society.

Who’s serving you? Who’s doing the low-paid jobs? Who’s doing the “undesirable” tasks? It’s us: immigrants.

The “undoable and unwanted” jobs

So, why do foreigners do the “undoable and unwanted” jobs? Simply, most of us had a tough life in the past. And if our countries were safe enough to live or prosper then we shouldn’t have come here in the first place.

Most Brits cannot really understand what is it like to live in extreme poverty and to starve. But people like me have gone through days without eating. And simply, fear of hunger, fear of failure is our main motivation. We don’t want to go back to our old life.

And here all we want to do is to improve our quality of life and support our families back home.

Politicians are very good on blaming the most vulnerable in society: immigrants. But what can they do to change the work ethics of the British people? Nothing.

Jamal Osman fled the violence in his home country of Somalia and arrived in the UK in 1999. He was granted asylum a year later and worked as a labourer for a number of years before starting a journalism degree at Kingston University. He’s been a regular contributor to Channel 4 News since 2008.