RICHARD LITTLEJOHN: Why are we hiring cleaners from Ecuador when millions of people are on benefits here?

Every once in a while along comes a story which sums up modern Britain in microcosm.

Step forward Gabriela Rodriguez, an office cleaner sacked for ‘stealing’ a leftover tuna sandwich.

Ms Rodriguez is a 39-year-old single mother of two from Ecuador, who has been employed by a cleaning contractor in the City of London for the past two years.

She is now suing for unfair dismissal after being fired from her £13-an-hour job following a complaint that she had ‘taken client property . . . without authority or reasonable excuse’.

The details of the alleged theft of this discarded £1.50 Tesco sarnie need not detain us, although some versions claim that the filling was egg, not tuna.

What nobody has bothered to ask is: why are we importing office cleaners from Ecuador when 9 million of our own people are sitting at home doing stuff-all and claiming sickness benefits?

Ms Rodriguez’s case has become something of a cause celebre, taken up by the United Voices of the World (UVW), a trades union established specifically to fight for the rights of foreign workers in Britain.

Gabriela Rodriguez, 39, (pictured) was said to have been fired from her £13-an-hour job for the 'theft' of a leftover tuna sandwich which was due to be thrown away after a meeting

Gabriela Rodriguez, 39, (pictured) was said to have been fired from her £13-an-hour job for the ‘theft’ of a leftover tuna sandwich which was due to be thrown away after a meeting

Campaigners protesting Ms Rodriguez's sacking staged a march outside Devonshire's offices

Campaigners protesting Ms Rodriguez’s sacking staged a march outside Devonshire’s offices

Speaking as someone who covered the labour movement for more than a decade, I’d never previously heard of the United Voices of the World. But given that there are now 6.2 million workers from overseas employed here, I shouldn’t be surprised to learn that the UVW is the biggest union in the country, outstripping the once mighty TGWU, or whatever it calls itself this week.

Foreign nationals now comprise around one-fifth of the workforce, more than half the number of British citizens aged between 16 and 64 classed as ‘economically inactive’. According to the latest figures, 40 per cent of those eligible for work are either incapable or simply can’t be bothered.

For the record, I’ve never had a problem with anyone who comes to Britain for a better life, provided they work hard and pay their taxes. Ms Rodriguez is just one of the six-million-plus immigrants filling largely menial jobs which British ‘workers’ consider beneath them.

It wasn’t always thus. In the days when I covered the unions for London’s Evening Standard, the only people schlepping into town at the crack of dawn were evening paper hacks and assorted janitorial workers servicing offices in the City.

When I commuted to Fleet Street from Essex, the train would start filling up at Stratford as it rattled through the East End. Most of the passengers being decanted at Liverpool Street were cleaners and maintenance staff employed in the Square Mile.

This Happy Breed were celebrated in an ITV drama series called Mrs Thursday, played by Kathleen Harrison, a Cockney charlady who inherits a fortune from her grateful boss.

Later, when I moved to North London, I would cadge a lift with my neighbour Bongo Pete, a part-time percussionist who considered Special Brew an acceptable breakfast beverage.

Pete’s legendary thirst cost him his chosen profession as an insurance broker. But after he was made redundant in his late 40s, and rather than sit at home drinking himself into oblivion, he spotted a gap in the market and started a company sterilising telephones in the City.

He soon had a successful business, but to the best of my knowledge most of his staff were local. None of them came from Ecuador, some 6,000 miles away as the crow flies.

These days, Pete could quite easily have retired early and been shunted on to incapacity benefits until it was time to claim his old age pension. His Special Brew dependency could be written off as a ‘disability’, no questions asked.

How did we end up with four out of ten working age people claiming benefits?

There are more than a million vacancies waiting to be filled at any one time. We shouldn’t have to import 1.2 million immigrants a year to make up the shortfall.

Gabriela Rodriguez, a single mother of two from Ecuador, is now suing for unfair dismissal

Gabriela Rodriguez, a single mother of two from Ecuador, is now suing for unfair dismissal

That’s the real headline, not the ‘net’ migration figure — which subtracts the number of British citizens and other temporary residents Getting Out of Dodge for good.

We’ve also managed to breed a generation of workshy millennial snowflakes, too frightened to leave the security of their bedrooms. Around 200,000 18-to-24-year-olds claim to be too ill to work because of ‘mental health ishoos’.

The Covid lockdown and Rishi Sunak’s Money For Nothing And Your Chips For Free furlough largesse institutionalised idleness. It was no surprise to read a report at the weekend claiming that Britain is facing an obesity epidemic because people ‘working from home’ are piling on the pounds, stuffing their faces with Hobnobs and watching Bargain Hunt in their jimjams.

Half the country now considers work an optional extra. Even those prepared to take a job believe it is their right to ‘WFH’ for at least part of the week. No wonder productivity has plummeted.

The City of London, like city centres across the country, is a virtual ghost town on Mondays and Fridays.

Gabriela Rodriguez was probably one of the few people who bothered setting foot in that office on the day in question.

Without Gabriela, and millions of others like her, the economy would collapse. The least we can do is give her a sandwich.

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