Polish plumber (French: le plombier polonais, Polish: polski hydraulik) was a phrase first used by Philippe Val in Charlie Hebdo and popularised by Philippe de Villiers as a symbol of cheap labour coming from Central Europe as a result of the directive on services in the internal market during the EU Constitution referendum in France in 2005.
The phrase became well known after Frits Bolkestein, the creator of the Directive, noted during a press conference that he would like to hire a Polish plumber because he found it hard to find a good handyman for his second house in northern France. The proclamation caused considerable controversy and debate in France. The mayor of the village in which Bolkestein resided gave him a list of available plumbers he found in the phone book.
The phrase was then the origin of a controversy during the EU Constitution referendum concerning the motivations of opponents to the treaty. Some supporters assumed opposition to the treaty was due to nationalist considerations, others considered it was used to discredit them.
The "Polish plumber" was also featured on a poster by the Polish tourism board in response to what was perceived as negative rhetoric against Poland. The "Polish plumber", portrayed by 21-year-old male model Piotr Adamski, beckoned French tourists to come to Poland. T-shirts were also manufactured, and a follow up poster featured a "Polish nurse", portrayed by 22-year-old Bożena Szwarc. Her phrase being Pologne: Je t'attends. (English: "Poland: I'm waiting for you".)
The Swiss Socialist Party campaigned in favour of the free circulation of people (in the context of European bilateral deals) and also featured a character, with the slogan Plombiers de tous les pays, unissez-vous! (English: "Plumbers of all countries, unite!"), a reference to the famous slogan and last words of the Communist Manifesto.
The "Polish plumber" cliché may symbolise the fear of cheap Central and East European labour threatening the jobs of West Europeans. On the other hand, some British media changed track and sounded a more positive note, praising affordability and reliability of immigrants' work. Statistics for 2003–2007 estimated that two million East and Central European immigrants arrived in the UK and that half of them were Polish. Polish immigration also meant new business in some areas, shops introduced bilingual English-Polish signs, bookstores established "Polish language" sections, some Police forces looked to recruit Polish speaking staff. Nonetheless, the stereotype was cited as a factor in the referendum that led to the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union.
- "Beneficial immigration" Archived December 3, 2013, at the Wayback Machine., by Vanessa Quick, September 2007
- Adam Taylor (2016-06-28). "Britain's 850,000 Polish citizens face backlash after Brexit vote". Washington Post.
- Ted Jeory (2016-06-24). "Brexit: Polish builders defiant but admit future is 'uncertain' after EU referendum vote". Independent.
- Paola Buonadonna (2016-06-03). "First they came for the Polish plumbers: a dystopian view of life post-Brexit". The Daily Telegraph.
- Lauren Frayer (2016-05-14). "If Britain Leaves The EU, What Happens To The 'Polish Plumber?'". NPR.
- Elisabeth Braw (2016-02-25). "'Brexit' debate: Could Britain get by without the 'Polish Plumber'?". Christian Science Monitor.