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Exploitation of Migrant Workers in the Hospitality industry

Exploitation of Migrant Workers in the Hospitality industry
Author: Rachael Williams
2 Commentries
This discussion paper looks at migrant workers in the hospitality and tourism industry and who is responsible for exploiting them within the work place.

Key words
Exploitation Migrant Workers Hospitality Hotels

The paper submitted aims to evaluate the group responsible for the exploitation of migrant workers in the tourism industry with a particular focus on the hospitality sector. Migrant workers are essential to the workings of the hospitality industry with 6% of the workers in the tourism industry coming from foreign countries. Migrant workers typically fill roles in which are seen as undesirable and low skilled jobs that are hard for management to fill with UK native workers (People 1st). 2004 saw an increase in countries that joined the EU some of these included: Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. Opening the UK labour markets meant that Central and Eastern European country members were allowed to freely move throughout the EU states and work without restrictions, many of the mass migration were Polish. Although many migrant workers are highly trained in their native countries, language barriers and lack of knowledge about their rights causes many problems for many of these workers. These can include difficulty in finding accommodation, opening a bank account and getting paid the correct amount for their job (Ilo.org, 2012).
Due to the boundaries many migrant workers face while working it can open many opportunities for exploitation to occur. This exploitation is something that is not mirrored in workers that know their rights and understand the correct protocol. The conference paper aims to find if it is the responsibility of the government, the employers, the trade unions or the agencies that hire the workers to prevent any further exploitation. The paper will also highlight procedures in place that fight against migrant exploitation in the work place.
A report published by the UK government in 2014 showed that one of the main reasons that exploitation happens within migrant workers is because of their lack of knowledge in trade unions and the absence of migrant workers within the trade unions. 4% of workers in the hotel industry belong to a trade union, thus meaning their knowledge on wages, living conditions and equality is hindered and the employers having power to exploit workers into working conditions that are unacceptable (Blach, 2016). Hotelworkers.org are a London based trade union that assist with many issues regarding unfair treatment to workers and they pride themselves in trying to spread this word to make more migrant workers aware of the help they are able to receive. Trade unions are a voluntary group to be a part of and they are there for assistance when needed and try to improve the conditions of migrant workers. Because of this they are reducing the chance of the migrant workers from exploitation resulting in them having no blame for what happens within the work place.
Agency work is when an external company recruit the employees on behalf of a bigger company, for example many hotel workers are recruited through an agency instead of within the hotel meaning that any problems or responsibilities are held with the recruitment agency not the hotel that the workers are in. These things include wages, worker’s rights and any other issues. Agencies are renowned for underpaying migrant workers, giving them little help with their problems and exploiting them using fear of job loss. A report from the University of Liverpool outlined the issues in tackling exploitation and forced labour in the hotel and hospitality industry. It is suggested that some migrant staff are employed from their home countries and accommodation is provided along with their jobs meaning the workers would feel tied down to a certain job and feel that they are been exploited by the chance of a new job and accommodation to work the hours that hotels require (Balch, 2016). In many cases agency workers are expected to get a certain amount of rooms serviced in a certain amount of time, if they go over this amount of time they may be expected to do unpaid overtime. This put an increasing amount of pressure on the workers and will start to affect their health and living conditions. In many cases workers may be afraid to say anything to their agency in fear of losing their job.
The UK Government set up a group that investigates claims of exploitation of migrant workers with a bid to tackle the problem. All companies that were found to have used behaviour to exploit workers were charged £30,000.
It can be very hard to determine the main offender when it comes to exploitation however the agency workers do nothing to improve the situation in which many people work and use fear within the workers to improve the situation for themselves.


Balch, A. 2016. Tackling exploitation and forced labour in the UK hotel sector. (2016). 1st ed. [ebook] Liverpool: University of Liverpool. Available at: http://www.gla.gov.uk/media/1587/tackling-exploitation-and-forced-labour-in-the-uk-hotel-sector.pdf

Gov.uk, (2014). Migration Advisory Committee report on the the growth of European Union (EU) and non-EU labour in low-skilled jobs and its impact on the UK. London: Gov.uk

Ilo.org. (2012). Migrant workers are essential to hotel industry. [online] Available at: http://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/newsroom/news/WCMS_185870/lang--en/index.htm
Links between exploitation of migrant workers and modern slavery
Author: Anna Stankiewicz
I have chosen to comment on this paper as it is of personal interest to me as academic discourse and as it relates to personal and observed experiences of migrant workers and exploitation, particularly through recruitment agencies. Moreover, the paper mirrors many of the themes in my paper such as exploitation, mobilities, and migration.

The paper aims to ascertain as to who is responsible for the prevention of exploitation of migrant workers within the tourism industry. It provides a detailed description of each group’s roles and responsibilities towards the prevention of this issue. It can be seen from this discussion, that there is a culture of ‘shifting the blame’ from one group to another. For instance, whilst agencies underpay workers and do not provide sufficient information about exploitation in the workplace, they claim to adhere to government policies and guidelines, ultimately performing in a legal way. The question then becomes one of being ethical in contrast to simply conforming with the law.

The author identifies some of the problems migrant workers face when working in the UK, for instance finding accommodation, opening a bank account and getting paid accordingly. Moreover, the provision of accommodation in line with the job and being recruited from home countries are factors in the exploitation of workers (Janta et al., 2011). These examples are ones of modern slavery. Although this term might seem rather severe, hidden forced labour, labour trafficking and third party exploitation are all characteristics of modern slavery (Stronger2gether, 2016), and I strongly believe should be addressed as such to highlight the issue which whilst prominent is often hidden in the media and academic discussion in the UK.

It is interesting that the paper does not ultimately identify a single ‘offender’ responsible for (the prevention of) exploitation of migrant workers. It can be then argued that the attempt to ‘pin the blame’ onto one group may be counter-productive, and that all of the groups involved should hold equal responsibility to prevent the exploitation of not only migrant, but all workers.

However, I would argue that whilst it is impractical to hold responsible only one group for exploitation in the workplace, simultaneously the issue should be tackled at the root of the problem. Agency staff hold the most power in identifying and subsequently preventing exploitation of migrant workers, as they work closely with both the employers and the workers (Skrivankova, 2010). Ultimately, agencies should do more to prevent workplace exploitation, particularly in the tourism industry which traditionally has low unionisation.

I would go one step further than the paper, to propose that since this exploitation is not mirrored in workers who are aware of their rights, the key to preventing exploitation of migrant workers is education. Moreover, this should be done not only by the government but also by recruitment agencies and employers, and go beyond merely complying with basic legislation, to exhibit moral and ethical character. The migrants home work culture and unionisation should be taken into consideration when educating them on rights and policies which act to protect them.

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

Skrivankova, K. (2010). Between decent work and forced labour: examining the continuum of exploitation. York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Stronger2gether (2016). Free Resources for Employers and Labour Providers. Available: http://stronger2gether.org/resources/. Last accessed 11 May 2016.
Exploitation of migrant workers in the UK
Author: Pasi Poikela
I have chosen to comment on this paper, since exploitation and vulnerability are themes shared by my paper. Although my paper focuses on the issues of migrant work in the UK I was interested to explore a different point of view on the topic of exploitation. The issues of migrant workers in the hotel industry are also of personal interest to me, since I will possible be a migrant worker in the hotel in the future.

The author clearly defines key terms such as trade unions and agency work, which demonstrates a detailed approached to the research, while also making it easier for readers to follow the contents of the paper.

This paper identifies a key issue of power imbalance between migrant workers and their employers, that while many migrant workers have a high level of education in their home countries, their lack of knowledge about their rights and issues with language barrier makes them more vulnerable to exploitation, which is in line with my paper that identifies this power balance as the main issue of migrant work. European migrant workers can also be argued to have a lower skill profile, or to be perceived to have a lower skill profile, as well as lower economic backgrounds, which in turn creates an opportunity for the employers to pressure them more than the native workers (Raess and Burgoon, 2015).

This paper identifies agencies as being responsible for the exploitation of migrant workers in the UK, and touches on the related legal issues. An important topic that this paper omits, is what is the reason behind exploitation. Baum (2012) argues the underlying social conditions in a country can responsible for the exploitation of migrant workers. The treatment of migrant workers reflects the organisations, or even the nation’s view on migrants. MacDowell et al. (2009) also argue that migration is a significant social problem in the UK, which is promoted by xenophobic popular press.

Overall this paper is well written and researched. The paper is also concise, and keeps the focus well on the issues relate the topic.

Baum, T. (2012) Migrant workers in the international hotel industry. International Migration Paper. 112.

McDowell, L., Batnitzky, A., Dyer, S. (2009) Precarious Work and Economic Migration: Emerging Immigrant Divisions of Labour in Greater London’s Service Sector. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research. 33 (1), 3-25.

Raes, D., Burgoon, B. (2015) Flexible Work and Immigration in Europe. British Journal of Industrial Relations. 53 (1), 94-11.