Friday, December 16, 2005

The following report was in last Sunday's Times, it makes for interesting reading..........

The Sunday Times - Ireland

The Sunday Times

December 11, 2005Latvia races to pick Irish mushroomsJohn Burns

IT COULD be Ireland in the 1980s: a brain drain of talented young people leaving their families and their country to seek higher pay and a better life abroad.

But this time it is Latvia, as thousands of its people flock to Ireland in search of jobs picking mushrooms. It is estimated that in some rural villages up to one-third of the inhabitants have left for back-breaking work in the republic.

The exodus is the theme of a best-selling book written by one of the mushroom pickers, a mother of four who shared a three-room house near Dublin with 11 other Latvians and picked mushrooms from dawn to dusk.
Laima Muktupavela says the Irish farm-owner told Latvian workers not to wear gloves, and the mushrooms eventually turned their fingers black. She earned about €250 a week, more than four times the minimum wage in Latvia.

Muktupavela’s book about her experiences, The Mushroom Covenant, has captured the Latvian zeitgeist, as well as being a bestseller and winning a literary award. There is a growing fear that Latvia is losing its best young talent to Ireland, leaving gaps in the workforce at home and a shortage of key personnel, such as doctors.

“There is hardly a family left in this country who hasn’t lost a son or daughter or mother or father to the mushroom farms of Ireland,” Muktupavela, 43, told the International Herald Tribune last week.
“During the cold war, we all dreamed of leaving but the risk is that if everyone leaves, then the country will disappear.”

Muktupavela credits her experience in Ireland with making her a more independent person. Now writing her fifth novel, and working on a film about migration, she is considering buying a house near an Irish mushroom farm.

She points out that Latvia’s experience is similar to Ireland’s in previous generations, but believes the new EU member can turn it around as Ireland did. “Twenty years from now it is the Irish who will be flooding into Latvia and not the other way around,” she said.

Jekabs Nakums, a Latvian athlete who represented his country in the Olympics, reopened the debate within Latvia by announcing recently on television that he was leaving to wash cars in Ireland.

In the Latgale region of eastern Lativa, parents who emigrate sometimes leave children behind creating a generation of “mushroom orphans”.
Since Latvia joined the EU in May 2004, its people are free to travel to other member states in search of work. It is estimated that there are between 20,000 to 30,000 Latvians and Lithuanians in Ireland. There are doubts over the exact figure because there are many illegal or unregistered cases.

While Ireland and Britain worry about the influx of workers, Latvia, with a population of just 2.3m, is increasingly concerned about losing so many of its people. Latvian officials have estimated that between 50,000 and 100,000 people have left since accession in May 2004, a rate of departure that puts Irish emigration in the 1950s and 1980s in the shade.

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