HUNDREDS of foreign workers have been bussed into Hyndburn to plug staff shortages at a major company.
Mail order firm Express Gifts of Church has used up to seven different employment agencies to recruit eastern European staff, with up to a quarter of its contract positions filled by foreigners during recent peak seasons.
Some of the agencies, which act independently of the 1,500-employee Henry Street firm, have arranged cheap rented housing for immigrant workers – mostly Poles and Ukrainians – with others being found homes through third party organisations.
At a time when jobless figures have risen alarmingly during the recession and wildcat strikes have been held demanding British jobs for British workers, the revelation is sure to prove controversial.
The number of people claiming Jobseekers’ Allow-ance has risen by 41 per cent in Church and 71 per cent across Hyndburn in the year to the end of 2008.
The practice was disclosed in a letter to the Observer, which warned of an invasion of "exploited" cheap foreign labour.
But the company insists it has acted properly and both it and its partner agencies are regularly audited to ensure 100 per cent compliance with minimum wage and Customs and Excise laws.
Express Gifts bosses say that 30 eastern European workers are permanent employees but they do not currently employ any temporary foreign workers.
In addition, a spokesman said that they do not expect to recruit from abroad during the peak pre-Christmas period this year because of the current labour market.
A company statement read: "Express Gifts employs a significant number of temporary staff every year to deal with its peak season. In recent years the company has employed workers from a number of European countries because it has not been able to recruit enough suitable staff locally.
"The source or nationality of the staff is not specified or known in advance other than they must be eligible to work in the UK.
"In 2008, 19 per cent of the total number of temporary staff came from agencies, compared with 25 per cent the year before.
"Agency and directly-recruited staff all have contracts which comply with UK employment legislation and all have the same rates of pay.
"All the agencies used are vetted to ensure that they comply with all applicable regulations and a contract is signed with them to that effect. The company pays the agencies a fee for the staff and has no involvement in their recruitment, transport or accommodation arrangements.
"The company and the agencies are subject to regular checks by Government agencies concerned with immigration, pay, health and safety and working conditions.
"Express Gifts strictly abides by all legislation and regulations in its employment practices and processes."