European Voluntary Workers [Європейські добровільні робітники] – persons from continental Europe invited by the British government in 1946-1951 to work in the United Kingdom in sectors experiencing labour shortages as a result of the Second World War.
Of several schemes established for the recruitment of EVWs, the largest, in terms of numbers of workers, was the Westward Ho! scheme approved in 1946. It involved the recruitment of men and women of predominantly Eastern European origin, including Ukrainians, from displaced persons camps mainly in Germany and Austria. Recruitment began in the spring of 1947, and Ukrainians were among the first nationalities from which recruits were sought. The selection process involved interviews and medical inspections, and the applicants were obliged to sign an undertaking that they would work only as directed by the Ministry of Labour and not change their place of work without official approval.
Preference was given to those who were willing to accept unskilled manual jobs, as well as to those who had experience of certain types of skilled work or were suitable for training in such work. Preference was also given to applicants who had no dependants with them in the camps, or who were willing to leave any dependants behind until it became possible to bring them to the UK.
Most of the Ukrainian EVWs came to the UK in the second half of 1947 and the first half of 1948. The final arrivals were in 1949. According to official statistics, a total of 20,912 Ukrainians came to the UK as EVWs (16,194 men and 4,718 women). In addition, a number of their dependants were admitted to the UK: 411 adults (36 men and 375 women) and 451 children (260 boys and 191 girls). Shortly after arriving, about 700 Ukrainian EVWs, mainly men, chose to return, or were deported, to the countries from which they were admitted. In the autumn of 1948 the number of Ukrainian EVWs increased when most of the former soldiers of the Galicia Division (8,128 persons), who had arrived in the UK in 1947, were released from prisoner-of-war status and engaged as workers under the EVW scheme.
The EVWs were accommodated in hostels close to their place of work. They received the same wages and were employed under the same conditions as British workers. To a certain degree, however, they were subject to discrimination, especially in industries in which the trades unions were strong. Foreign workers were often barred from positions of responsibility or skilled jobs, and in some cases there were agreements between unions and employers that foreign workers would be the first to go in the event that redundancies were required.
According to statistics on the initial placements of EVWs of all nationalities recruited from Germany and Austria, men worked mainly in agriculture (52%), coal mining (19%) and domestic service in hostels, hospitals and other premises (9%), while women were employed mainly in cotton mills (38%), domestic service (34%) and woollen mills (16%). The former soldiers of the Galicia Division, who were employed mainly as agricultural workers upon their arrival in the UK, continued to work in this sector after their transfer to EVW status.
Initially there was no limit placed on the time for which EVWs were obliged to work as directed by the Ministry of Labour. In July 1950, however, the ministry decided that, from 1 January 1951, EVWs who had lived in the UK for at least three years could apply to be released from the restriction relating to choice of employment. As a result, the workers gradually came to benefit from the same employment rights enjoyed by their British counterparts.
Isaac, J., British Post-War Migration, Cambridge: University Press, 1954.
Kay, D., Miles, R., Refugees or migrant workers? : European volunteer workers in Britain 1946-1951, London: Routledge, 1992.
Stadulis, E., "The resettlement of displaced persons in the United Kingdom", in Population Studies, vol. 5, no. 3 (March, 1952), 207-237.
Tannahill, J.A., European Volunteer Workers in Britain, Manchester: University Press, 1958.
Vernant, J., The Refugee in the Post-War World, London: George Allen & Unwin, 1953.