Page 5 of 5   <      

East-to-West Migration Remaking Europe

Janis Neulans, 39, a laborer from eastern Latvia, rides the train from suburban Dublin into the city to have his rsum typed. He arrived in Ireland with high hopes for a job but little money.
Janis Neulans, 39, a laborer from eastern Latvia, rides the train from suburban Dublin into the city to have his rsum typed. He arrived in Ireland with high hopes for a job but little money. (By Kevin Sullivan -- The Washington Post)

Neulans says he started work at 5:30 a.m. and didn't finish until after 8 p.m. He milked cows all day with a half-hour break. The farmer yelled endlessly at him and two other immigrant workers. "It's like slavery," Neulans says.

But while he is there, he gets a phone call. It is the Latvian recruiter who works for Alfie Lambert at the door-frame factory. Neulans had seen an ad for the company in a newspaper in Latvia and applied before he left for Ireland. Now she says there's an unexpected opening. Neulans says the call is like the song of an angel.

"It's a big relief," he recalls thinking. "I can get out of here."

Neulans begs the farmer for some pay; he gives him half of what he's owed. After sunset, Neulans walks an hour down pitch-black country roads until he comes to a town. He takes a late-night bus back to Dublin, hops another bus and by noon the next day he's sitting in front of Lambert's desk.

Lambert hires Neulans, who has one thought racing around his head: "In a week, I'll have a paycheck."

Latvian Wage Times 3

Two weeks after arriving in Ireland, Neulans stands along the back wall of a vast, brightly lit factory filled with the screeching of industrial saws and drills and the sweet smell of fresh-cut lumber. He works at an enormous drill press, wearing a new blue canvas jacket with "Quick Fit Frames & Doors" on the back, blue work pants, steel-toed work boots and safety goggles.

He mans Station 16, where he takes a seven-foot piece of door jamb from a pile, drills two quick holes, lays in a piece of brass hardware, screws it down, checks the piece for flaws, then stacks it behind him, ready for Station 17. He will do this hundreds of times a day, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., earning the Irish minimum wage, about $9.20 an hour -- more than three times what he earned in Latvia. He can work Saturdays if he wants extra money. In a year, Lambert says, his wages will be upped to $12 an hour.

At 6 p.m., Neulans shuts down his machine, brushes the sawdust off his clothes and walks across an empty lot to a three-bedroom mobile home. It has a tiny kitchen, no TV, no radio, no books. Lambert has given him use of the place in exchange for keeping an eye on the factory at night.

Neulans sits on a beige couch in the otherwise empty living room. He is unshaven, exhausted, satisfied. "I think I'm going to work here a long time," he says. Someday he hopes to have enough money saved to buy some calves. He wants to raise them on a little piece of land in the Latvian village where he was born.

"It's where my heart is," he says.


<                5

© 2005 The Washington Post Company