Two hundred Romanian construction workers who were helping to build the 2012 Olympic Park have been "quietly sacked" in the past two months during a clampdown on illegal foreign labour, it has been alleged by a senior source.
They were claiming to be self-employed to circumvent restrictions on employing foreign labour, but inspectors from the UK Borders Agency ruled that they were actually full-time employees of construction firms, and warned that they and their employers faced heavy fines if they stayed on the site.
The Olympic Park, in east London, is Europe's largest construction project, with a workforce of around 3,000, working for a large number of contractors. The number of jobs on the site is due to double during 2009.
Yesterday, the Conservatives called for stricter employment checks after it was revealed that nearly one in 20 of the workers employed there in 2008 had been arrested for working illegally.
But the construction union, Ucatt, which has hundreds of its members working on the Olympic site, sounded as anxious as the management to avoid disruption that might jeopardise the Olympic Park schedule. Ucatt's general secretary, Alan Ritchie, praised it as "one of the best regulated construction sites in Britain" and a major source of local employment.
Between April and December 2008, 136 illegal immigrants were caught working on the site, according to figures obtained by the Conservatives. An answer to a written parliamentary question revealed that 16 had been prosecuted, 11 removed from the UK, 19 granted leave to remain, and 90 were either awaiting a decision, or awaiting travel documents prior to being removed from the UK.
"People who work on the Olympics ought to be rigorously checked but more than a hundred illegal immigrants have slipped through the net," the shadow Immigration minister Damian Green said. "We should be worried by the security implications of this as well as this new evidence that all the Government's tough talk on immigration controls is so much hot air."
Until last year, Romanians made up about 6 per cent of the workforce on the Olympic site, making them its third-biggest national group, after the British and Irish, according to one source.
When Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU in 2006, their citizens were denied the same right as other EU citizens to work in the UK, but they were granted an unrestricted right to start their own businesses here. The Romanians working on the Olympic site claimed they qualified to work because they were self employed.
Self-employed workers were banned from the site under an agreement signed late in 2007, after Ucatt had warned that their presence invited illegal foreign labourers to seek work on the site, and could lead to strikes. The union claims that after a delay, the agreement is now being enforced.