Ethnic Minority Workers Essay Sample

Ethnic Minority Workers Pages
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There were poor perceptions of job security in the sector. Few workers felt secure in their employment, often feeling they could be sacked on the spot, particularly those working informally. Some longer-term workers in regular employment were aware that increasing use of casual and agency staff meant that their jobs were not secure. Training available to migrant workers, particularly in restaurants, was minimal, usually only in basic health and safety, hygiene or fire procedures. In some hotels, however, managers had recognised the neglect of training in the past and were offering staff the chance to pursue National Vocational Qualifications.

Problems at work • There was a high degree of acceptance of the poor working conditions in the sector among interviewees, with issues such as low pay, long hours, unpaid overtime and poor health and safety standards often not perceived as particular “problems” but rather viewed as the nature of work in the sector. Where problems were identified these related to: pay; long working hours; workload; getting time off; bullying and verbal abuse, including racial harassment; problems getting on with colleagues; English language skills; and theft of property from work. Bullying and verbal abuse was common, particularly in kitchens where chefs were often known as bullies, but this was accepted by some as “just the mentality of the kitchen”.

Sometimes the abuse had a racial element, with “bloody foreigner” used as a term of abuse. Racist abuse from restaurant customers was also regularly suffered by some waiters. In one hotel, several staff had experienced bullying from a manager, resulting in time off sick with stress. Staff believed there was an ulterior motive of trying to get rid of long-serving employees and replacing them with cheaper casual staff. Opportunities for promotion were felt by several interviewees to be inhibited by discrimination on grounds of race, ethnicity, nationality or age, as well as the limitations imposed by work permit or visa rules. Some long-term workers felt they had been overlooked for promotion, with their age then compounding the problem as employers looked for younger staff to promote and develop. Where employees saw that they had opportunities to progress, this was due to the support of a manager. Opportunities were further limited by employer presumptions about the suitability of staff for “front-of-house” jobs, such as reception or waiter positions, based on ethnicity, gender and age. Some employers expressed preferences for white staff, or a “balance” of white and non-white front-of­ house staff, on the grounds that it was what their customers wanted. The research found that such racial stereotyping was expressed openly in this sector in a way that may not be acceptable in other sectors.

In the main, interviewees did not raise health and safety concerns when discussing problems at work, reflecting an acceptance of the hazards of this type of work. However many issues did arise during the course of interviews, which included: burns and working in hot kitchens; working in a confined space; back and shoulder pains; and tiredness from long working hours and heavy workload. Often, responsibility for health and safety, such as avoiding burns, was seen as primarily belonging to the employee and not the employer. Most workers believed that little could be done to tackle the problems that they were having at work, or felt that the only solution was to leave the job. A handful of workers had taken action to resolve their problems at work, either by raising concerns with their manager, or seeking outside support or advice.

Support, advice and awareness of rights • Workers felt poorly informed about employment rights in the UK, and had little idea of where to get information if they needed it. Many also were unsure about aspects of their own particular terms and conditions of employment, which was related to a lack of written information. As might be expected, those who had been in the UK for a longer time, and the small number who were members of a trade union, felt better informed about their rights at work. Trade unions had been a valuable source of support for a small number of interviewees, but for most workers, unions simply did not feature in their experience of work. But despite the difficulties of organising in the sector, including high staff turnover, no culture of trade unionism and employers that are hostile to trade unions, union membership was growing in one London hotel and catering branch.

This was the result of recruitment campaigns that included information in several languages. Some interviewees either had, or would, seek support from community organisations about problems at work. However, there was a variation in the level of community support available in the three regions, with London and the West Midlands having established organisations representing a variety of ethnic groups, but such structures were much less well developed in the South West. Seeking support and advice through community organisations can also be a double-edged sword for those who work for employers within the same ethnic community, with some fearing that if they sought advice, word would get around and they would have problems getting work in future. Of the small number of workers who had sought support for problems at work, Citizen’s Advice, Acas and a specific project for service workers (no longer in existence) had been used. While a small number were aware of Citizen’s Advice, a couple thought that the service excluded them because of its name, which implied to them that it was for British citizens only.

Conclusions and recommendations • While many of the working conditions and problems highlighted in this report are common to workers in the sector, the research found several features that serve to differentiate the experience of ethnic minority and migrant workers: immigration status; working in the informal sector; discrimination in the labour market and employment; and low expectations which increase tolerance of poor working conditions. For ethnic minority and migrant workers the difficulties in raising and resolving problems relate both to their own individual vulnerability and characteristics of work in the sector. Recent migrant workers may have limited English language skills and little or no knowledge of UK employment rights and support structures, factors that compound the difficulties of addressing problems in the sector. These include: the perception that there is a ready supply of labour to replace workers who complain; a lack of union organisation; a culture of poor personnel practice, such as minimal training and provision of information; and the informal nature of much employment obtained by ethnic minority and migrant workers in the sector.

There appeared also to be a lack of monitoring or enforcement of employers’ compliance with employment legislation in this sector. To understand the different experiences and motivations for ethnic minority and migrant workers working in hotels and restaurants, the research developed a typology of strategies that highlights at one end how some individuals feel they are acting strategically in relation to their work choices, whereas at the other, economic factors and limitations play a greater role in determining their choices. The strategies move from Career progression through Broadening opportunities and Stepping stone to Pragmatic acceptance and No alternative. The research makes a number of recommendations about how the position of this vulnerable group of workers can be improved through better access to employment rights and information, improvements in working conditions and career opportunities, and improved provision of support and
advice.

1. INTRODUCTION This project, The Experience of Ethnic Minority Workers in the Hotel and Catering Industry: Routes to Support and Advice on Workplace Problems, was funded by the European Social Fund and Acas and carried out by the Working Lives Research Institute, London Metropolitan University between May 2004 and July 2006. The project used qualitative research methods to explore the experiences and problems at work of ethnic minority and migrant workers in hotels and restaurants, with the aim of both identifying the range of experiences and problems encountered, and gaining a greater understanding of access to and use of support and advice to resolve these problems. The research therefore provides evidence of the conditions faced by ethnic minority and migrant workers, which is an area relatively neglected by research so far. Its objective is to inform policy in order to improve good practice in relation to the employment of ethnic minority and migrant workers, to prevent problems from arising, and to improve the support and advice mechanisms available.

The key target groups for these research findings and policy objectives are thus employers, statutory bodies, the voluntary sector, trade unions and community groups. 1.1 Background to the project At the start of the project a working paper (Wright and Pollert, 2005) was prepared to establish the extent of ethnic minority and migrant working in the hotel and restaurant sector, as well as pinpointing the main issues for workers in the sector identified by the existing literature. The working paper is available on the project website1. The paper showed that ethnic minority and migrant workers make up a significant part of the hotel and restaurant workforce – almost threefifths (59%) of workers in the sector in London described themselves as other than White British in the 2001 census (Wright and Pollert, 2005: 27). Outside of London the picture reflects the differences in the concentration of the ethnic minority population across the UK.

In the West Midlands, where 84% of the hotel and restaurant workforce were White British in 2001, the largest other groups were White other (2.9%), Bangladeshi (2.3%) and Indian (2.2%). The sector is a particularly important source of employment for some groups, with 52% of male Bangladeshi workers employed in restaurants, compared to only 1% of white males (Holgate, 2004: 21). In London, migrant workers (those born outside the UK) account for 60% of those employed in the hotel and restaurant sector (GLA, 2005: 68), compared to 31% of all London workers who were born outside the UK. However there have been important changes in the composition of the hotel and restaurant workforce since the 2001 census, with employers filling vacancies in the sector by employing significant numbers of workers from the East European countries that acceded to the EU in 2004 (known as the A8 countries). The government requires nationals of the A8 countries who wish to work in the UK to register with the Worker Registration Scheme (WRS), and Home Office figures show that of the 375,000 workers registered between May 2004 and March 2006, 22% were working in hospitality and catering (80,570 workers) (Home Office, 1 http://www.workinglives.org/Hotel&Catering.html 2006a).

There has, however, been a decline in the proportion of WRS applicants in Hospitality and Catering from 31% in the second quarter of 2004, to 18% in the first quarter of 2006, with Administration, Business and Management now employing greater numbers. The highest proportion of all applicants under the scheme were Polish (61%), followed by Lithuanian (12%) and Slovak (10%). The figures also show a movement of registered workers to other parts of the UK than London, with the percentage applying to London falling from 25% in the second quarter of 2004, to 11% in the first quarter of 2006 (Home Office, 2006a). While working conditions in the industry have been well documented as consisting of low pay, low status, exploitation of employees and lack of unionisation (e.g. Gabriel, 1988; Price, 1994; Head and Lucas, 2004; LPC 2005), little has been written in the UK about the actual experiences of ethnic minority and migrant workers, with much of the existing literature focusing on management behaviour and strategy (Wright and Pollert, 2005).

Some recent exceptions include a study of low pay in London (Evans et al, 2005), which included the hotel and catering industry. This study of 341 randomly selected low paid workers contained 90% who were migrants. Of their sample of hotel and hospitality workers, the largest group (two-fifths) were non-British whites, mainly from Eastern Europe, followed by Africans (24%). It found the lowest rates of pay to be in the hotel and catering sector, below contract cleaning, home care and the food industry. Other recent research has considered the experience of Central and East European migrants in low paid employment in the UK in the context of the A8 countries joining the EU, and covers hospitality, along with construction, agriculture and au pairs (Anderson et al, 2006). It is some 15 years since the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) undertook a formal investigation into recruitment and selection in hotels (CRE, 1991) in response to concern that the sector was failing to consider equal opportunities in employment practices.

It found that ethnic minority staff were disproportionately concentrated in unskilled jobs, and found only one ethnic minority manager out of 117 hotels investigated. It made a number of recommendations about how hotels should improve their practices in relation to recruitment, monitoring, positive action and training taking account of equal opportunities issues. However, we have been unable to find evidence of any monitoring or evaluation of whether these recommendations have been heeded or implemented by hotel employers. While knowledge of employment rights among all workers in the UK is poor, it has been shown that vulnerable groups know even less (Pollert, 2005). A random survey of people’s awareness of employment rights in the West Midlands found that women, ethnic minorities, young people and the low paid were least likely to be aware of their rights (WMLPU, 2001).

The research was undertaken in the context of considerable public debate on migration policy, and at a time when the government was intending to phase out low skilled migration schemes, such as the Sectors Based Scheme, which granted work permits to certain numbers of workers in skills shortage sectors such as hospitality, in the light of new labour available from the European Union (Home Office, 2005). At the same time there is increasing concern for “vulnerable” workers, and the government has recently published a policy statement on protecting vulnerable workers, defined as “someone working in an environment where the risk of being denied employment rights is high and who does not have the capacity or means to protect themselves from that abuse” (DTI, 2006: 25).

1.2 Research aims The research set out to address the following key questions: 1. What are the working conditions of ethnic minority and migrant workers in hotels and restaurants? 2. How are working conditions seen and what are perceived as ‘problems’, and how does this impact on acceptance of poor working conditions? 3. What type of problems do ethnic minority and migrant workers have working in hotels and restaurants? 4. How do these compare to the problems generally affecting workers in the sector and to what extent are they associated with particular labourmarket niches within the sector to which these workers are confined? If this is so, to what extent is the insecurity of migrant status relevant, or is racial discrimination relevant? 5. How much do ethnic minority and migrant workers in this sector know about their rights at work, and to what extent do ethnic minority and migrant workers in this sector attempt to enforce their legal rights at work, or instead try to find ways to achieve a sufficient income and manageable working conditions, even if this means colluding with illegal employment practices? 6.

How much do ethnic minority and migrant workers in this sector know about where to get advice and support for problems at work? And who do they turn to for advice and support? To what extent do ethnic minority and migrant workers in this sector use statutory (i.e. Acas, CRE), voluntary (CABx, local advice agencies), trade union, community (groups or informal contacts through ethnic networks) or informal (friends, family) sources of support and advice? 7. What are the experiences of ethnic minority and migrant workers in this sector of using all these sources of support and advice and what barriers do they face in accessing support and advice for workplace problems?

1.3 Structure of the report The report describes the research methodology and access routes, together with the characteristics of the interviewees in section 2. The working conditions experienced by interviewees are described in section 3, confirming evidence from much of the existing literature on the sector, but also highlighting where the experience of ethnic minority and migrant workers may be particular. Section 4 describes the problems encountered by interviewees in their jobs in hotels and restaurants, but also considers the attitude of these workers to defining “problems” at work, as well as their approaches to resolving problems and barriers to resolution. The information, support and advice available to and used by the ethnic minority and migrant workers interviewed is explored in section 5, together with their awareness of employment rights in the UK.

In section 6 conclusions are drawn about the specific experiences of ethnic minority and migrant workers in the sector, the problems that they face and their need for support and advice, suggesting that changes need to be made to practice within the sector, as well as in improved provision of support to ethnic minority and migrant workers.

2. METHODOLOGY The project employed qualitative research methods to gather in-depth accounts of the experiences of 50 ethnic minority and migrant workers. Interviews were carried out between May 2005 and May 2006. In addition, interviews and face-to­ face and telephone conversations were held with key informants to provide contextual information on features and trends within the sector affecting ethnic minority and migrant workers. The strengths of using qualitative methods are that they can not only identify tangible issues (the problems themselves, for example), but also more elusive, subjective issues, such as motivation, perceptions of opportunities and of rights, sense of inclusion, integration and fairness – or their opposites – sense of frustration, alienation and barriers to obtaining support and fairness at work. 2.1 Regional scope The research project was confined to England within the terms of reference set by the European Social Fund.

Three English regions were selected in order to provide a comparison of experiences of migrant and ethnic minority workers: London, the West Midlands and the South West. London and the West Midlands have considerably larger non-white and migrant populations than other parts of the country, with significant numbers of Bangladeshis and Pakistanis working in the hotel and restaurant sector in the West Midlands (Wright and Pollert, 2005: 27­ 28). In contrast, the South West is the English region with the smallest non-white population, but is experiencing a growth in migrant workers. The problems facing ethnic minority and migrant populations here have been less well documented, but where studies have been done, isolation from ethnic minority communities and support structures emerges as an issue (BMG Research, 2003; Gaine and Lamley, 2003; SWTUC, 2004). Tourism also accounts for 10% of total employment in the South West, with the greatest proportion of these (70%) employed in the hospitality sector – accommodation, restaurants, pubs etc. (Tourism Skills Network South West, 2002). In the South West it was decided to focus the research on two towns with a large tourist population and therefore a high demand for a hotel and restaurant workforce: Bournemouth and Plymouth.

The Human Resources manager of a Bournemouth hotel group, interviewed for this research, said that only 32% of their workforce was British, indicating a high reliance on foreign-born workers. 2.2 Definitions of ethnic minority and migrant workers The research includes both “ethnic minority” and “migrant” workers, categories which, in real life, are complex, changing and overlapping. Some ethnic minorities (using the Labour Force Survey definitions) will also be migrants. Migrants (defined here as all those who were born outside the UK, Home Office, 2002) may or may not be defined as ethnic minorities, and may or may not be discriminated against. White Australian or Canadian migrant workers, for example, would not be. But Kosovan people may be regarded as ethnic minorities, and suffer racism and discrimination, and Czech or Polish people may or may not be discriminated against, and while they may not be “visible” in terms of skin colour, in the way black and Asian people are, they are “visible” in terms of language, cultural characteristics, and discrimination. As many “white” Eastern Europeans are now working in the hotel and restaurant sector, particularly since the EU enlargement in May 2004, it was felt to be important to include their experiences in the study.

2.3 Access to research participants In order to include the experience of a broad range of interviewees from different ethnic groups and backgrounds, including both recent and more settled ethnic minorities, it was decided to use multiple routes to access interviewees. Therefore a range of bodies were contacted, many with a twofold purpose of: a) providing contextual information about the sector and/or the experiences of particular ethnic groups; and b) helping gain access to research participants. Organisations contacted included trade unions, community and worker organisations, sector bodies, employers and statutory and advice agencies (see Appendix 2). In the South West, where there are fewer organised community groups than in the two other regions, we spoke to officers at Bournemouth Borough Council, who gave us informal contacts within the main local ethnic minority communities, as well as putting us in contact with several community interpreters who spoke the main languages of the local ethnic minority groups: Portuguese, Korean, Turkish, Bengali and Spanish.

These routes proved very useful in helping to access research participants and in providing interpretation for interviews. However, in the end, Turkish and Bangladeshi workers were reluctant to come forward to be interviewed, which the interpreters said was because they were fearful of speaking out about their employers, despite reassurances of confidentiality. In all three areas we used fieldworkers who were able to use their language skills to carry out interviews in workers’ native languages, namely Bengali, Spanish, Polish, Lithuanian and Mandarin. The fieldworkers were also able to provide access to workers who may not have come forward otherwise, being people who were known and trusted among their own ethnic communities, or who were able to provide sufficient reassurance of confidentiality. Training was provided in using the interview guide to all fieldworkers to ensure a common approach was used in interviews and that fieldworkers understood the aims and objectives of the research.

While the approach used provided access to workers in a wide range of establishments, from large hotel groups to small independent restaurants, including several working ‘illegally’ or ‘informally’, we acknowledge that using such routes could not access the most hard-to-reach illegal migrant and ethnic minority workers, who may constitute a considerable proportion of workers in the sector. The research may not fully represent the worst conditions found in the ‘underbelly’ of the sector as suffered by many ‘illegal’ or ‘undocumented’ migrants, as portrayed, for example, in Steven Frear’s 2002 film about a London hotel, Dirty Pretty Things. It was decided not only to seek out interviewees who perceived themselves as having had a “problem” at work, but a range of people in different jobs in the sector, in order to explore their typical work experiences and their attitudes towards “problems” and conditions in the sector.

2.4 Key informants In addition to the worker interviews, at least 20 key informants (see Appendix 2) provided further context on the hotel and restaurant sector, including regional knowledge. These included employers and employer representative bodies, trade union officials and branch members, community organisations, representatives of sector bodies and statutory and voluntary organisations. In some cases in-depth interviews were carried out, and in others more informal conversations were held either face-to-face or on the telephone.

2.5 Worker interviews A total of 50 in-depth qualitative interviews were carried out in the three regions, with a greater number in London due to the huge range of ethnic minority and migrant workers in the sector in the capital. The breakdown was as follows: Table 1: Worker interviews by region Region London South West West Midlands Total

% 46% 24% 30% 100%

No. of worker interviews 23 12 15 50 during the interviews, which and a half. Participants were of both themselves and their participation with a £10 shop

A semi-structured interview schedule was used generally lasted between 45 minutes to an hour assured of confidentiality, and of the anonymity employer. They were thanked for their time and voucher.

At the start of the interview, participants were asked to complete a two-page questionnaire giving basic demographic and employment details, data from which is provided in the following section. 2.5.1 Ethnicity Respondents were asked to describe their ethnicity, according to the classification used in the 2001 Census. The results are grouped together in table 2. Table 2: Ethnicity of the sample Ethnicity White Bangladeshi and Pakistani Chinese and Other Asian Black Mixed

% 36% 26% 20% 16% 2%

No. of interviewees 18 13 10 8 1

2.5.2 Country of birth Table 3 shows the range of countries from which interviewees came. It was notable that only one participant was born in the UK, despite attempts to find British-born ethnic minority workers in the sector. Both fieldworkers and interviewees themselves commented that many British-born people do not wish to work in a sector that is known for low pay and long hours, including the children of migrants interviewed, as they seek better alternative employment opportunities (some young British-born workers do work in the sector while they are students, but tend to do so for only a short time).

Table 3: Country of birth Country of birth Bangladesh China Colombia France Ghana Holland Indonesia Ivory coast Korea Lithuania Philippines Poland Portugal Slovakia Somalia Spain Sudan Turkey UK Ukraine 2.5.3 Gender Women are under-represented in the sample (38% of interviewees) compared to their presence in the sector as a whole, but this reflects the fact that the sample includes a substantial number of Bangladeshi workers, who represent a significant group in the sector in the West Midlands, and most of these workers are male (Wright and Pollert, 2005: 27-28). 2.5.4 Age Only one interviewee was under 21 years old. Almost two-fifths (38%) were aged 21 to 30 years old, and the same proportion were between 31 and 40 years old. Six interviewees (12%) were aged 41 to 50, and five (10%) were between 51 to 60. None of the interviewees were aged over 60. 2.5.5 Education Overall the sample was fairly highly educated, with 36% having a first stage or higher degree. Another 10% had post-secondary non-tertiary level education, and 36% had received education up to secondary level, while 12% had received

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