Global Cities at Work: The role of low economy Dr Kavita Datta

Global Cities at Work: The role of low
paid migrant labour in London’s
Dr Kavita Datta
School of Geography
Queen Mary
University of London
Aims of Presentation
• Examine the processes through which London’s
low wage economy has come to rely upon migrant
men and women
• Identify low paid migrant workers
• Highlight the working conditions of these men and
Research Project: Global Cities at
• Funded by the Economic and Social Research
Council (2005-2007)
• Research team
• Professor Jane Wills, Professor Jon May, Dr
Cathy McIlwaine, Dr Joanna Herbert and Dr Yara
• Research aims
• investigate the role, experience and wider
significance of migrant workers in London’s
low wage economy
Methodological Framework
• 429 questionnaire interviews; 103 in-depth
interviews, 31 key informant interviews
• Respondents drawn from
 Cleaning (offices and LU),
 Hospitality (hotels and catering)
 Domiciliary care
 Construction and
 Food processing
• Development of new data sets based on
the Labour Force Survey and an analysis
of wages taken from the Annual Survey
on Hours and Earnings
Global cities and migrant workers: the
emergence of a migrant division of labour
• Political-economic restructuring and the
increased role of migrant workers in global
cities’ labour markets (Saskia Sassen 1991)
• Exceptionalism of European cities (Chris
Hamnett 2003)
• However, over last decade, London’s labour
market exhibiting professionalization,
economic activity as well as growth of
working poor = MDL
Proportions of foreign born labour by
occupation in London
Occupation 1993/94
All London
Factors leading to migrant division of
• Labour market deregulation
• Welfare reform
• Growth in migration
1) Labour market reform
• Transformation of British economy in last three
• Changing nature of employment – permanent to
temporary, full time to part time, increased
• Characterised by subcontracting and deteriorating
conditions of work
2) Coupled with welfare reform
• ‘Work ethic’ and welfare reform under New Labour
• Reductions in both the real value of benefits as well
as the number of people eligible for benefits
designed to create more flexibility at work so as to
boost the supply of low paid labour
• Yet, such initiatives had little impact on either
unemployment or economic inactivity with
employers particularly reporting shortages in the
bottom end of the market.
3) Immigration trends
• Export of neoliberal policies to Global South in 1980s
•UK became country of net immigration in 1980s
• Rate of immigration began to rise markedly in mid-1990s
London and migrant labour
• London as a particular destination for migrants – by
2001, 42% of migrants settled in London (Spence
• By 2006, 31% of city’s population and 35% of working
age population were foreign born (Spence 2005)
• Attempts to manage this migration through the
adoption of managed migration policies and a points
based system
Immigration reform
• Points based system reflects 3 key immigration
• Cherry picking of highly skilled migrants from global
• Clamping down on ‘bogus’ asylum seekers and irregular
• Expansion of European migration over and above
migration from Global South
• Hierarchy of rights among migrant workers
Who are low paid migrant workers?
• Recent arrivals
One-half arrived in the UK in or after 2001
Over one-third (36%) migrated to UK between 1991- 2000
• Super-diversity: migrants came from 63 countries with
significant numbers coming from Africa (Nigeria, Ghana),
Latin America/the Caribbean (Colombia, Brazil, Jamaica)
Asia (Sri Lanka) and Eastern Europe (Bulgaria, Poland,
Map showing country of origin of migrants
Migrant division of labour interplays with gender and
racial division of labour
¾ of cleaners on the Underground: Black Africans
¼ of office cleaners: Latin America
over ¼ of workers in hospitality: Eastern Europe
Most workers in construction: Brazilians and Poles
Women predominantly employed in ‘semi-private’
spheres (care and hospitality), men in ‘semi-public’
spaces (construction)
Managers and supervisors reinforce clustering (and
stereotyping) by recruiting within their own ethnic
Carlos, a cleaner from Honduras, reported that
his Bolivian supervisor only employed Latin
Barbara, a care worker from St Lucia reported
her Ghanaian manager preferred to employ
Low paid work from the perspective of
migrant workers
• Migrant workers concerned about
low rates of pay, poor conditions of
work, a lack of respect and dignity
at work and divided workplaces
• Pay – majority earned the NMW
(£4.85 at the time of the survey)
Average earnings of £5.45/hr
More than 90% earned below the
London Living Wage (£6.70 per
Poor conditions of work –
- One half no annual pay rise
- One third never had pay rise
- Half lost pay for taking time off for emergencies
- Over half (52%) did not receive sick pay
- Two thirds (67%) received statutory minimum paid
annual leave (20 days inc bank holidays or fewer days)
- Over two thirds (70%) had no access to company
pension scheme
- Over half (55%) worked unsociable hours
Lack of respect and dignity
“many people think that we immigrants are used to cleaning in our
country but there are many immigrants who were solicitors,
accountants, and in different professions. We are not just worth
nothing, we have some value.” (Pedro, office cleaner from
“You’re [migrants] are portrayed as all these criminals, and yet we
actually hold the keys to all of these buildings, ‘cause we are
the cleaners. We are the guards. We lock up and we close down.
And we are so untrustworthy? …If Africans went on strike,
there’d be no security men, there’d be no trained nurses on the
wards, there’d be no cleaners, there’d be…no traffic wardens.
All the jobs that nobody else wants to do.” (Interview with
representative of the Central Association of Nigerians in the UK)
Divided workplaces
• Evidence of tensions between workers and supervisors,
managers and clients
• Evidence of ethnic and nationality competition among
migrant workers, often linked with racism
• Adesola, from Nigeria reported that: ‘Now they’ve
introduced people from Romania, Bulgaria, they brought
them in, what they do is when they bring them in, they
remove some of these Africans, they tell them these
people are Europeans and they have better right to work
than you… Because these people when they come in, they
don’t care how much you pay them.’
• “Black people, who I consider, see us as a threat. We
are white, usually better educated. English, who, I
think are not officially racist, but are rather open,
would prefer to employ Polish, who work harder then
a black person…I am coming here to work and I can
work legally as a citizen of a member state of the
European Union, while others often are here because
of prosecution or had to escape war” (Mirek, Polish
construction worker)
This said..
• Earnings in London compared favourably to those
in home countries – “Money-wise, you know here
is better. If you compare the pay scale here to
back home, it’s better paid here.” (Janet, care
worker, Jamaica)
• Acquire goods necessary for a good life – “What I
managed to achieve here in one year, I would
achieve there in five or six. It sped things up a
lot.” (Luis, Brazilian cleaner)
• Advantages of living in a global city
• You get a lot of experience in London. You know
people from around the world. You have an idea of
how the world is…Perhaps you don’t realize that when
you come from another country like Mauritius, a small
island but the fact that it is small gives you…a narrow
perspective on life….When you come to London you
see the world as it is, large, big and [while] the
difficulties are big, the prospects are also big. You get
a new perspective on life. (Vijay, care worker)
• Migrant division of labour outcome of complex
interplay of global and local neoliberal economic
restructuring; associated increase in transnational
migration and changes to welfare state
• Despite significance of low paid employment to
functioning of London’s economy, contributions of
migrant workers often unacknowledged and
• Need to value low paid work and migrants
Project outputs
• Global Cities at Work:
new Migrant Divisions of
Labour (Pluto Press:
• Details of published
journal articles, book
chapters and working
papers available