French workers crossing over to live the English dream | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 26, 2008 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, March 26, 2008


French workers crossing over to live the English dream

A file photo show a police officer walks below the French flag in Windsor. Thousands of French workers are leaving home, where ambition is often stifled by poor prospects or discrimination, to benefit from the flexible job market in London.Photo: AFP

Thousands of French workers are leaving home, where ambition is often stifled by poor prospects or discrimination, to benefit from the flexible job market in London hailed by President Nicolas Sarkozy, who arrives here Wednesday.
"Here, I can write Mohamed on my name badge and it doesn't bother anyone," said 23-year-old Mohamed Latbi, who studied for a business diploma in the western French city of Rennes but was only able to find work as a dustman at home "and I needed connections to get that."
He arrived in London in October 2006, and in three weeks, managed to land a job as a hotel receptionist.
"It was hard -- people spoke very quickly. But if you show them you are motivated..." he said, leaving the sentence unfinished.
Mohamed hung on, and eight months later, he secured a job as an employment consultant at the Centre d'Echanges Internationaux (CEI), a French organisation which helps new arrivals to find jobs.
He is among some 250,000 French citizens who work in Britain, with 15,000 coming each year.
"Yes, it's possible to find a job in London within 48 hours," Mohamed said. "But you have to be willing to do anything."
It was with that attitude that Vladimir Cordier first arrived in London in September 1997.
A few weeks before, he gave up a master's course in economics at the University of Rouen where one of his teachers summarised his job prospects thus: "I recommend you stay in education as long as possible."
"I wanted to avoid the struggle that some of my friends have gone through," he said.
Vladimir left for London on a Sunday, and found a job by the following Tuesday at a French secondary school in the British capital.
Even he admitted it was not the best start and during a series of less-than-challenging jobs, he considered throwing in the towel.
Nearly 11 years later, though, he has risen through the ranks and is now the European head of tour programmes at American online travel agency Expedia -- all at the age of 32.
"In France, that would not have been England, it is a meritocracy," he said.
Thibaud Herem agreed: "Here, things move very, very quickly."
After completing a vocational diploma in graphics, Thibaud left for London because he saw no future for him in terms of work in France.
He spoke "not a word of English" and had "no experience" when he arrived, sleeping on the floor in a friend's apartment for his first few months in the city.
"I worked hard, and that got me in my boss's good books," he said.
Starting out as a waiter at a cafe before becoming its assistant manager and, finally, its manager, Thibaud worked as a freelance designer on the side.
He soon launched his own Internet site and orders began to flow in, to the point where, aged 25, he is ready to quit his job at the cafe in June, and set up his own studio.
It's the free market in England that "allowed me to have a regular job," he said.
But despite benefitting from the system in Britain, he would not like to see it introduced in France: "We're treated like rubbish...they could wave me goodbye with a week's notice."
For him, the ideal job market would be some combination of the two, "between no security and too much bureaucracy".
Vladimir, meanwhile, conceded that the English system of liberalism has its faults, pointing in particular to the lack of social security coverage, but added: "Here, one can die waiting for a kidney, but in France, one can die of despair."
Based on his experiences, he wrote a book -- "Enfin un boulot" ("Finally, A Job") -- which he sent to Sarkozy.
Noting that he managed to create his company within a month, Vladimir said of Sarkozy: "He needs to liberalise France.”

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