Britain’s post-Brexit blue passports are being made by factory workers taking home as little as £400 a month.
While French multinational Thales is being paid £260 million for the contract with the UK Government, staff at its factory in Poland are quitting to earn more money as fishmongers or waitresses.
The Mail on Sunday has spoken to current and former employees who have complained of being underpaid and they claim the working conditions are so poor that the factory can ‘feel like prison’.
Britain’s post-Brexit blue passports are being made by factory workers taking home as little as £400 a month. Pictured: Our mock-up of Boris Johnson proudly brandishing a blue passport
The replacement of the burgundy EU passports introduced in 1988 by the new blue version this year has been gleefully anticipated in Britain.
The words ‘European Union’ have already stopped appearing on new UK passports, though Britons will be able to use EU lanes at airports during the 11-month transition period from January 31.
But the epochal landmark of Brexit is far removed from the working lives of the 500 employees at the factory on the fringes of the small northern Polish town of Tczew, until now noted only as the place where the Second World War began.
Outwardly, there is little to distinguish the imposing building but this is where the world’s most secure credit cards and passports are made using cutting-edge technology. One current worker, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said staff were expected to use two or three different machines at once, which he claimed was unsafe.
In 2018, when the new contract was awarded to Franco-Dutch firm Gemalto, the Home Office controversially claimed the deal would save the taxpayer £140 million on the previous contract with British company De La Rue. Pictured: Gemalto passport factory in Tczew, Poland
He said: ‘We work 12-hour shifts anyway but the company strongly encourages overtime, which can be exhausting. Working there can feel like prison sometimes.’
Some workers say they have been forced to claim paid sick leave so they can make more money from a second job. One ex-employee said she used to earn just over £400 a month after tax helping to produce Polish ID cards at the factory but she now earns more as a waitress in the town.
According to official government figures, the average wage in the Polish manufacturing industry is £745 a month, while the net minimum wage is about £330.
The average cost of rent in Poland is just under £300 a month – three-quarters of what Thales employees earn in Tczew.
The words ‘European Union’ have already stopped appearing on new UK passports. Pictured: How the burgundy EU passports – introduced in 1988 – looked versus how the new passports are set to look
‘After a month at the Thales factory, I realised I could easily make more money working as a fishmonger,’ one ex-worker said.
When The Mail on Sunday visited the factory last week, tight-lipped staff refused to even acknowledge that the new British passport is being produced there.
‘We make a number of secure documents,’ one said.
At the factory gates, a middle-aged Pole dressed in a white lab coat presented himself as the plant manager and reeled off a list of rules for anyone entering the ‘production zone’. The taking of notes and photographs were prohibited, and he insisted that a protective suit, cap and apron had to be worn at all times. Gaining further access to the building required going through a series of key-card-secured doors.
The Mail on Sunday has spoken to current and former employees who have complained of being underpaid and they claim the working conditions are so poor that the factory (pictured) can ‘feel like prison’
But with clients including MasterCard as well as the British Government, the security and secrecy are hardly surprising.
In 2018, when the new contract was awarded to Franco-Dutch firm Gemalto, the Home Office controversially claimed the deal would save the taxpayer £140 million on the previous contract with British company De La Rue. De La Rue chief executive Martin Sutherland said he was ‘surprised and disappointed’ by the decision amid concerns that Gemalto was cutting costs to keep its bid down.
There was widespread anger that the deal was ‘unpatriotic’ and ironic that, post-Brexit, such a totemic document as a national passport should be manufactured in a foreign country. Several months after the deal went through, Gemalto was bought by French conglomerate Thales. The £4 billion deal went through in April last year despite worries that the buy-up gave Thales too much power in the passport and credit card industry.
Thales said: ‘Thales has always been compliant with the labour laws applied in the 68 countries where the company is present. We are a very dynamic employer in Poland, fully respecting health and safety regulations. The wellbeing of our 80,000 employees worldwide is paramount and we consider their workplace wellness a priority.’
Britons will be able to use EU lanes at airports during the 11-month transition period from January 31. Pictured: Boris Johnson on January 8
US trade deal ‘possible by August’
Donald Trump’s trade chief has told Britain a post-Brexit deal with America can be ready by late August – but only if talks start next month.
In a call to his UK counterpart Liz Truss last week, United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer warned that Washington will shut down in September as America prepares to go to the polls. But he insisted a ‘bare bones’ agreement could be completed before then if negotiations start as soon as Britain is free from Brussels.
The Government is hoping for an early victory in talks, with the US agreeing to drop tariffs on whisky that were slapped on the EU during a trade dispute.
And as Brexit day approaches, Britain is stepping up preparations for talks with other countries, with the Government free to start formal negotiations the moment Britain leaves the EU on January 31.
Ms Truss will not be travelling to Davos for the World Economic Forum later this month but many world trade leaders – keen to meet key figures in Brexit Britain – will come to London on their way there, including representatives from Australia, New Zealand and Japan. ‘The mountains are moving to us,’ joked a Trade Department source.