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A study into the Exploitation, Vulnerability, Power and Employee Rights of female migrant workers in the Hotel cleaning sector of the Tourism and Hospitality industry.

A study into the Exploitation, Vulnerability, Power and Employee Rights of female migrant workers in the Hotel cleaning sector of the Tourism and Hospitality industry.
Author: Elizabeth Morris
1 Commentries
Abstract: Using academic journal articles and three BBC documentaries on migrant workers in the hotel industry, the purpose of this paper is to discuss the four main theme relating to female migrant workers in the UK. These themes include, Exploitation and Vulnerability, the Power of the employer/employee and Employee Rights. The research shows that many migrant workers are unaware of their rights as an employee in the UK and therefore are being underpaid and exploited. The paper suggests that better use of the already available documents on migrant workers rights should aid both the employer and employee.

Key Words: Vulnerability, Exploitation, Power, Rights, Migrant, Hospitality.

The 2004 European Union (EU) enlargement saw ten new member states introduced, these included two Mediterranean Islands, Malta and Cyprus. And also eight central and eastern European countries including Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia and Hungary (Murphy, 2006: 635). Along with the expansion, three pre-existing EU member states including United Kingdom (UK), Ireland and Sweden chose to lift the restrictions on labour workers coming from the ten new members states to work in their country.

Since the merging of the EU countries, the UK saw an influx in people migrating from the new member states over to the UK to live and work. Janta (2011) suggests that many of the reasons for migrating the UK have included high unemployment rates in their homes countries, low wages, lack of opportunity, poor economic performance and weak social states. As a result many migrants found their way into the tourism and hospitality industry. ‘The reason for this is the sector’s nature and conditions, along with its accessibility and the broad understanding of required skills that makes migrant workers take up hospitality jobs’ (Janta, 2011: 803). Much of the literature on migrant workers in the hospitality industry suggests that the common characteristics include high staff turnover, long physically demanding hours, often seen as low skilled and poorly paid low status jobs.

Looking specifically at female migrant working in the hotel sector of the hospitality industry, research suggests they are seen as being more disadvantaged due to their age, gender and nationality. ‘Their voices remain unheard, their stories untold, and their experiences largely overlooked in both hospitality and migration scholarship.’ (Rydzik et al, 2012: 138). Gadow (2009) suggests that many migrant workers are young, not fully literate in the English language, with minimal financial resources, limited social networks in the UK and often have restricted welfare rights due to their immigration status in the UK. All of which characteristics can often lead to migrant workers being vulnerable and at risk of exploitation. The main themes addressed will be Employees rights, Vulnerability, Exploitation and Power.

Exploitation in terms of migrant exploitation in the work force can be defined as the acts or circumstances in which a person or organization treats someone unfairly in order to gain or benefit from that persons working ability. This was shown in the BBC documentary on migrant workers during the 2012 Olympics, as evidence was shown that the workers at the Waldorf Hilton hotel were being exploited. Changes in their contract meant that they were set unrealistic and unreasonable targets to clean a certain amount of hotel rooms an hour and if these targets were not met, there would be deductions in their wages. It was even stated that the migrant employees were given higher targets to meet than the British employees (Cleaners anger at outsourcing in top Olympic hotels, 2012).
This was found to be one of the main issues which were echoed in a number of sources including; McDowell (2007) where she talks about a Polish woman who was set to clean 16 rooms per shift within 20 to 30 minutes per room. A second BBC documentary on the exploitation of migrant workers, showed that workers at a London hotel were given a target of cleaning 2.5 rooms per hour and if this was not met, they would not receive the full £5.73 minimum wage per hour.

There is a clear sign that employers use their power over the employees to exploit them in fear of being dismissed or cuts to wages. ‘There is a dark side in such a power-embedded relationship; for example, hotel staff members are vulnerable to harassment because of their status relative to the customers’ (Guerrier and Adib 2000. Cited in Mcintosh and Harris, 2012: 130). McDowell (2007) argues that employers and managers use stereotypical assumptions about the embodied attributes of workers. Therefore the assumption those female migrant workers are best suitable for working within the hotel cleaning sector. Anderson, et al (2006) uses the term ‘the capacity for hard work’ as a way to describe the key reason for migrant employment within the hospitality sector (cited in, McDowell, 2007: 8).

The Trade union Congress states that people who can legally work in the UK are entitled and have the right to; earn the national minimum wage, working time rights – including breaks, holidays and holiday pay, they are also entitled to health and safety protection, the right to join a union and also protection from unfair discrimination (Trade Union Congress, 2007: 6). The evidence which has already been discussed suggests that many employers are not adhering to this policy. The use of documents such as the Staff Wanted Initiative (2015) and the Equality and Human Rights Commission Guidance (2010) can be used to combat exploitation of female migrant workers in the UK.

Trade Union Congress (TUC) (2007) working in the UK: Your rights report. [Online] Available from: http://www.tuc.org.uk/tuc/workingintheuk.pdf [Accessed 28 April]

Janta, H. (2011) Polish migrant workers in the UK hospitality industry. International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, 23 (6) 803-819

McDowell, L. & Batnitzky, S.D. & Dyer, S. (2007) Division, Segmentation, and Interpellation: The Embodied Labors of Migrant Workers in a Greater London Hotel. Economic Geography. 83 (1) 1-15.
The reason behind unfair treatment of migrant workers
Author: Zihao Zhu
The reason why I choose this topic is very similar with my research paper, author focus on the migrant female workers on the hospitality industry in the UK on the perspective of Exploitation and Vulnerability, the Power of the employer/employee and Employee Rights. My research is on student part-time worker with the perspective of unfair treatment based on two students interviewees. Also this topic is very interesting topic and worth to investigate. However, there is some differences between my research topic and authors. Authors focus on the migrant workers in the Hotel industry in the UK, my research is on student part-time workers in their school time. The author focus on the EU migrant workers in the UK, My research focused on the non-EU student workers in the UK, which has limited working hour permission.

There is something that author did not address in the discussion paper, which was the shortage of the UK labour market especially in the service industry, such as restaurant, and hotel. As the majority researchers have studied on the migrant workers, the seasonal and cyclical nature of the industry makes resorting to migrant workers an almost ideal solution for many employers, as they can expand and contract their workforce as the staff in demand. The increasing number of migrants worldwide contribute to the ease with which they can be hired on to fill up the shortage in the local workforce. “Meeting labour market shortages and cost minimization are often cited as reasons for employing migrant workers” (Janta et al., 2011, p. 1007; Mackenzie & Forde, 2009).

Thus, it would appear that some employers recognized migrant workers usually harder working than local workers, as they may fear to lose the job (Densch, et al, 2006; Janta et al, 2011; Lucas & Mansfield, 2008; Lyon & Sulcova, 2009), although this has been critiqued by various authors (Bauder, 2006; Mackenzie & Forde, 2009). Because there were plenty migrant workers seeking the job, once employees leaving the job position, another migrant worker will take place that job very soon. There is a reason why employers have the less consideration of the migrant workers. However, the issues of migrant workers were generally criticized by the researchers. As the migrant workers, they also have the right to gain at least national minimum wages, holiday and holiday pay, which were protected by the British laws.

To sum up, migrant workers stay the weak position in the way of protect themselves benefits. To minimize the issues of the unfair treatment on the migrant workers, the public and private community need to corporate in the way of protect every employees right.


Bauder, H. (2006). Origin, employment status and attitudes towards work: immigrants in Vancouver, Canada. Work, Employment and Society, 20(4), 709-730.

Densch, S., Hurstfield, J., Hill, D., & Akroyd, K. (2006). Employers’ use of migrant labour. London: Home Office. Report 04/06.

Janta, H., Ladkin, A., Brown, L., & Lugosi, P. (2011). Employment experiences of Polish migrant workers in the UK hospitality sector. Tourism Management, 32(5), 1006-1019.

Lucas, R., & Mansfield, S. (2008). Staff shortages and immigration in the hospitality sector. [online] available: www.ukba.homeoffice/gov.uk/mac [Access 08/May/2015]

Lyon, A., & Sulcova, D. (2009). Hotel employer’s perceptions of employing eastern European workers: a case study of Cheshire, UK. Tourism, Culture and Communication, 9(1/2), 17-28

Mackenzie, R., & Forde, C. (2009). The rhetoric of the ‘good worker’ versus the realities of employers’ use and the experiences of migrant workers. Work, Employment and Society, 23(1), 142-159.