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Acknowledgements
This research report was written by Cesar Urquizo, with support from Farah Kurji and Lucy Brill
in September 2008.
The research project was possible thanks to the collaboration of the Migrants Supporting
Migrants group. We specially want to acknowledge the participation of the peer researchers
Victor Svaikovskij, Negat Tafesse, Ewa Wisniewska, Piotr Pikula, Pawel Bajurski, Miroslaw
Ogorzalek and Mesfin Mehare Haile and members of the Migrants Supporting Migrants group
Shanmugalingam Bavananthan, Magdalena Matuszczak, Agnieszka Wielochowska, Barat
Muradi, Laura Yes, Svitlana Smotrytska and Cristina Galli.
Contents
Introduction............................................................................................................................................4
Background and Context .........................................................................................................................4
Migrants Supporting Migrants Group ......................................................................................................4
Oxfams Migrant Workers Project (MWP)................................................................................................5
Methodology ............................................................................................................................................5
Advantages and limitations of the Peer Research approach ..................................................................5

Research Findings ................................................................................................................................6


1. Personal Characteristics......................................................................................................................6
2. Reasons for coming to the UK.............................................................................................................7
3. Experiences at work ............................................................................................................................7
Seeking work.......................................................................................................................................7
Where do migrant workers work?........................................................................................................7
Positive experiences at work ...............................................................................................................8
Working hours .....................................................................................................................................9
Problems at work.................................................................................................................................9
Resolving problems...........................................................................................................................11
4. Problems outside work ......................................................................................................................12
5. Sources of support............................................................................................................................12
Oxfam reflections on findings ................................................................................................................13

Recommendations ..............................................................................................................................14
Access to training and ESOL classes ...................................................................................................14
Work and Employment ..........................................................................................................................14
Advice and Information..........................................................................................................................14
Integration .............................................................................................................................................14
Service Providers Approach .................................................................................................................15
Community Development and Influencing Opportunities ......................................................................15

3
Introduction
The most important for me is working in the UK, I have got so many
experiences dealing with not just different people with different
attitudes, but experiences working with and for different nationalities.
Where they have so many different cultures, costumes, different aspects
of religion etc. In summary, it has been a great experience for me.1
This report summarises the key findings of a peer research project exploring the experiences of
migrant workers living and working in Manchester. It also outlines recommendations for service
providers and other organisations who are supporting migrant workers.
The research was carried out by members of the Migrants Supporting Migrants (MSM) group with
guidance and support from Oxfam. The MSM group decided that the research was needed to help
them understand more about the experiences and support needs of other migrant workers, both to
inform the groups activities and the practice of service providers. Oxfam was keen to support this
research and encouraged a focus on employment issues to link with the aims of our programme.
The report is structured in three parts:
1. Background and Context, including a brief description of the methodology, and an
introduction to the Migrants Supporting Migrants group, the peer researchers and
Oxfams Migrant Workers project
2. The key findings of the research
3. Recommendations for service providers, employers and trade unions

Background and Context


The research sought to document the experiences and issues faced by migrant workers in
Manchester in order to better understand how support groups and service providers can respond to
the needs of this group. The research aimed to build on the experience of the Migrants Supporting
Migrants Group and Oxfams Migrant Workers Project and used a peer research methodology.

Migrants Supporting Migrants Group


The Migrants Supporting Migrants group has been meeting regularly in central Manchester since
November 2007 and is made up of around 20 migrants from Eastern Europe, South America, Asia,
the Middle East and Africa. The group came together with the aim of supporting other migrants in
Manchester, and has received training and support from Oxfams Migrants Workers Project.
So far the group have worked hard to set themselves up and have helped to organise a number of
information workshops to support other migrant workers to gain awareness of their rights and how
to access local support services. The group also plan to set up and run an e-mail advice service
and cultural and social activities for other migrant workers in Manchester.

4 1. All quotations in italics are taken from the notes made by peer researchers summarising the responses of their migrant worker interviewees.
Oxfams Migrant Workers Project (MWP)
The Migrant Workers Project was set up in April 2006 and aims to support low waged migrant workers
to access a dignified livelihood, free from discrimination, exploitation, and with their rights protected.
The MWP is funded by the Big Lottery Fund and Oxfam and seeks to fulfil its aims through the
following activities:
Organising rights based information workshops to support migrant workers in three regions
of England
Supporting community leaders from migrant worker communities
Supporting Service providers to improve services for migrants
Work with a private sector employer to ensure better practice in the workplace
Providing opportunities for migrant workers to influence service providers,
policy makers and the media
In the first two years the project has worked directly with 378 migrant workers, 40 migrant worker
community leaders and 366 support and service delivery organisations. Since November 2007,
Oxfam has supported the development of the Migrants Supporting Migrants Group and has worked
with 42 people as part of this group.

Methodology
The research was carried out by migrant workers from the Migrants Supporting Migrants group
during August and September 2008, with the support of Oxfam staff from the Migrant Workers
project. Oxfam provided training for the peer researchers, which consisted of two workshops in
principles of research and interviewing skills. Over the following five weeks, peers researchers
interviewed 34 migrants who lived and worked in Great Manchester. The interviews were carried
out using a semi-structured questionnaire designed by the peer researchers using a template
provided by Oxfam, who also supported individual researchers throughout this time. These interviews
were written up by each interviewee and collated by Oxfam staff, and the findings then fed back to
the peer researchers and other members of the MSM group. The information gathered was then
analysed in two subsequent workshops with the peer researchers and members of the Migrant
Supporting Migrants group. Recommendations were identified based on the issues identified in
the research and the discussions in the workshop
Seven members of the MSM group became peer researchers, although two others also completed
the training. Most had not undertaken research before. The peer researchers have very diverse
working experiences in different sectors. They represent a variety of nationalities, and all live in
Manchester.

Advantages and limitations of the Peer Research approach


For me it was an opportunity and a process of learning and gaining
new skills2
We decided to use peer research methodology because it allowed us to train peer researchers to gain
new skills and (in some cases) conduct interviews in the workers first language. We also hoped that
migrant workers were more likely to trust members of their own communities and some interviewees
confirmed that this was the case. We were able to contact more migrant workers through peer
researchers, however the nationalities of the peer researchers influenced the make up of the sample
to some extent. In some cases where peer researchers interviewed colleagues at work they reported
that they felt that the quality of the information provided could have been affected by their relationship
within the workplace.

2. Feedback from peer researchers in discussion with Oxfam staff.


5
They [migrants] dont want to be contacted in my experience people
dont want to [be] questioned. I did the interview because they trust in
my word.

I know the problems they face because we work together but they did
not say anything about them in the interview, maybe they think that I am
a spy from the company3

Research findings
1. Personal Characteristics
In this section we summarise the information provided by interviewees about their situation and
experiences within the UK. These findings are based on information provided by 34 migrants, working
in different sectors and companies within the UK. All had been living in the UK less than five years,
15 were women and 19 were men. They were aged between 20 and 50, but more that half (21) were
under 30. Five of the interviewees (two women and three men) had children. Only one of the male
migrants had not brought his children to the UK with him.
23 of the interviewees came from Eastern Europe, and 7 from Africa, with the remainder coming
from Western Europe, South Asia, the Middle East and Latin America. However these figures are
likely, at least in part, to reflect the nationalities of the peer researchers (since they used their existing
networks to contact interviewees). We can see from the chart below that the majority (over 70%) of
the migrants interviewed had completed further education of some kind, with 8 having completed a
university degree.

20
19

15

10

7
5
5
3
0
School College University Masters
Degree Degree
or above

6 3. Feedback from peer researcher.


2. Reasons for coming to the UK
I wanted a better life and to earn more money
The research showed that one of the most important reasons why migrants came to the UK was to
improve their income, with 29 interviewees giving better wages than my home country as part of their
answer. However when asked Why did you come to the UK?, most interviewees gave more than one
response. Other reasons given included wanting to learn English, to improve their living standards and
quality of life, or because they got married to a UK resident. As we can see from the answers below,
although for the majority the main motivating factor was economic, several also had very personal
reasons for coming such as a chance to start a new life or to be with their partner. We also asked the
migrants about their plans for the future; 17 hoped to gain better qualifications, 14 wanted to get better
jobs, 12 planned to return home, 8 definitively wanted to settle in the UK and 2 did not know.

3. Experiences at Work

Seeking work

Yes, they were helpful, although charged too much money for their help
How do migrants find jobs when they come over here? Many of them use agencies although some
relied on their own contacts and friends. 25 out of the 34 interviewees told us that they had used an
employment agency to find work, and 23 stated that they had found them useful in helping them find
work, although many respondents qualified this by recounting the difficulties they had encountered,
as shown by the following quotes:

Agencies are good if you are working with them on temporary basis.
They don't write references when you get new job, because they don't
want to lose you. They just want to keep you on as a temporary worker

The agency was helpful and friendly; sometimes they will assign me for
a job and when I arrived there, they will cancel it. They wasted my time.
They used to repeat them many times

Where do migrant workers work?

My work experience is in hospitality, childcare, catering and in


manufacturing industry. I started my first job with a Catering Agency.
I worked as a waitress in different places like football stadium, and
different hotels I also worked as sales girl, sandwich maker Kitchen
porter and packing and displaying in a manufacturing industry

7
We asked the migrants which sectors they had worked in, most had had more than one job and
several had worked across different sectors. The chart below shows the total number of migrant
workers with experience of working in each different particular sector, with manufacturing and
hospitality being the most common (the numbers exceed 34 as many interviewees had worked
in more than one sector).

Type of employment
3 Care work
7 Others
7 Construction

10 Retail

14 Hospitality
2 Agriculture

9 Cleaning
2 Security

15 Manufacturing

Positive experiences at work

The strength of the pound. The experience in (a) different culture.


The challenge of the people and work to prove you can do it. This
learning process motivates you to work more and to know more

You learn new things, new experiences; You meet new people; It is a
very good rate of payment; To build confidence under different kinds
of environment; Improve languages;

They pay you on time.


When we asked what are the good things about the UK?, 29 out of the 34 emphasised higher wages
than their home country, 13 people said good working conditions and 10 mentioned the opportunity
to learn English language. Other positives mentioned included good standard of living, availability of
work and friendly atmosphere, as well as the challenge of the people and work, to prove you can
do it. This learning process motivates you to work more and to learn more.

8
Working hours

Sometimes I work fewer hours. My contract was to work 32 hours/week.


However, the manager sends me home whenever she wants
The research showed that 14 people out of the 34 worked for longer than eight hours a day. Four
of them were women. 10 interviewees (including 2 women) said they worked 8 hours a day and
the remaining 8 (all women) said that they worked for less than 8 hours a day including 2 who work
part time. 27 out of the 34 reported that they had worked for more than forty hours a week, with
8 exceeding sixty hours a week on occasions.
21 interviewees reported that they wanted to work for longer hours than were available, suggesting
that in many cases the migrants were keen to work long hours. However this data needs to be
interpreted carefully as in almost every case there was a marked difference between the maximum
number of hours worked in a week and the minimum (the average difference was 33 hours a week).
This highlights the insecurity of migrant workers situation, as many depend on agencies to find them
work and they have no guarantee of a fixed number of hours each week. As a result, when asked to
work extra hours they are rarely in a position to refuse it, even if they have already worked 60 or 70
hours in that particular week.

Problems at work

My working experience is good and bad. The good side is I could save
some money and support my family at home. The bad side is there is
great discrimination against your colour, race and language in most of
the jobs I have done.

I am happy because I have got a permanent job, but it's not good
money. To save some money, I must do overtime.
Although most of the migrants we interviewed had some positive things to say about their experiences
of working within the UK, most qualified their statements and some recounted particularly difficult
situations:

A friend of mine took me to the agency and I started to work in the


kitchen. The people I used to work with were all English when I tried
to communicate with them, they were speaking very fast. When I asked
them some questions, as I didn't understand their English, they rolled
their eyes and pulled faces.

9
While I was working in the factory they just gave me the job which was
avoided by others, that was the dirtiest place to work in I complained
to the managers he said that I can leave the work if I don't want to do
that. Unfortunately at that time, I need the money and I just keep on
working till I finish.
We asked our interviewees about nine work related problems and 22 said that they had encountered
at least one of these (65% of our sample). The next chart summarises they problems they reported:

Problems at work faced by Migrant Workers

No contract 7

Non-payment of wages 6

Harrassment or abuse 6

Unfair treatment 19
Accident at work 2
No paid holidays/sick
pay/maternity benefit 7

Unfair dismissal 6

Illegal deductions 5

Non-payment of NMWage 3

No problems 12

19 out of the 22 people who said they had had problems at work highlighted unfair treatment (56%),
with other common problems including unfair dismissal (18%), illegal deductions (15%), non-payment
of wages (18%) and harassment and abuse (18%). Most of these problems demonstrate clearly that
many migrant workers in Greater Manchester have been exploited by their employers, although some
also reported difficulties in dealing with the authorities most commonly in requesting a National
Insurance Number. The category of unfair treatment included both situations where migrants were
treated unfairly by their employer, and where the mistreatment came from other workers. Examples
were given both of conflict between migrants and English workers, and also between workers of
different ethnicities.

I like(d) my job at the beginning but latter the company push me to do


additional jobs for same money/hours. I was obliged to resign my job
because of the dispute. I was treated unfairly by forcing me to do more
work for the same payment

10
The job was to make the beds and to clean the rooms including the
toilets. One time we were two people, he was from another country and
they gave five rooms to him and they gave me eleven rooms to clean.
I just couldn't finish it within the time limit.

During break time, they were talking about the starving children in
Africa and they used to ask me about the situation in a very ill manner.
I reminded them their knowledge was based on the media I asked
them similar questions about the rest of Europe.

When I was working for the Willing Workers Agency, there were
many people from a particular country who worked there for many
years. They mistreated us very badly, trying to sabotage by hiding
the cutleries or giving wrong information. They just want to monopolise
the work and they consider us a threat.

Resolving Problems

I have tried but the management back them self up against me and the
problem not been solved and it leaded me to dismissal.

I dont have enough English to express my opinion. Usually when I am


upset, I will cry and I didn't want to do that. I don't want them to see me
in tears.

Yes, we both had a meeting with our manager, and then asked each
other for excuse (apologise to each other)

I was trying to tell about my problems with the supervisor from the
company. He did not pay attention. My problem stayed unsolved.
Fourteen people who had problems stated that they had taken action to try to improve the situation,
most commonly by asking their manager or the agency to sort it out, and in six cases the situation had
improved (although in one instance only after the person had been back to the agency ten times!) but
in two others the worker had lost his job as a result. Eight workers said that they had not complained,
either because they could not express themselves clearly or because they were afraid that they would
lose their work most said they preferred to keep quiet and wait until they found a better job. One of
the interviewees reported that they had sought help from the helpline but it was ineffective, another
said that their employer had been inspected by the Inland Revenue and the deductions for travel costs
were stopped as a result.

11
4. Problems outside work

I was attacked by a group of white youngsters during my way home on


Friday evening.

My problem when I arrived were: weather, language, culture, work,


bank account.

I learned English Language for three years. I was planning to continue


my study. Unfortunately they stopped the ESOL course. The college fee
is very expensive. I can't afford to pay.
We asked the interviewees to recall the difficulties they faced when they first came to the UK, and
whether these had changed when they were more settled. The most common problems on arrival
were the language barrier and difficulties finding work, although cultural differences and the high cost
of living were also mentioned. Over time, language and cultural barriers eased and migrants reported
difficulties with accommodation (one had moved house four times in three years), racism and crime
and the cost of English classes.

5. Sources of support

They help me to find houses for rent, explained British system with
salaries, holidays, taxes, working benefits and jobs

I went to church and that helped me to socialise with people.


I didn't feel lonely anymore.
Again we asked migrants where they went for support, both initially when they first came into the UK
and later once they had been here for several months.
The following Table summarises their responses:

Sources of Support used by Migrants On arrival When settled

Other migrants 29 22
British people met through work, or neighbours 9 9
Trade Union 0 1
Public services eg. Health service, Local Council 4 5
Community organisations and advice agencies 0 2
Churches or other faith organisations 4 6
Other 1 1

12
This finding shows how heavily migrants rely on their own informal friendship and communal networks
for support, not only when they first arrive within the UK but also continuing as they settle in the
UK. Perhaps surprisingly, personal contacts with ordinary British people are the next most important
source of help, with faith organisations and public services helping a few new arrivals. As migrants
become more settled they gradually make contact with other local services and community
organisations. One of the most challenging findings is that only one of our interviewees had been
in contact with a trade union, despite the fact that so many had experienced problems at work.
The comments given by some interviewees suggested that on occasions it was particular individuals
that made the difference within an organisation:

Yes the women I met in job centre gave me valuable information and
I used that in many places. She was a stranger (and helped me).
Public service workers are helpful. They give detailed information

Oxfam reflections on findings


This research raises challenging questions for all of us, including Oxfam as we plan how to develop
our work with vulnerable workers beyond the life of the Migrant Workers project. This project has
provided an opportunity for Oxfam to build on its existing links with the migrant worker leaders that
make up the MSM group, and through them to document the experiences of other migrants within
Greater Manchester. It was not originally part our project plan and so was carried out with minimal
resources; as a result, we relied heavily of the good will and commitment of all those involved,
particularly the peer researchers and other members of the MSM group and Oxfams project worker,
Cesar Urquizo.
The main focus of the research project was on migrants experiences at work, reflecting Oxfams
programme focus on labour rights. The report documents some disturbing evidence of the difficulties
that many migrants encounter within the workplace, highlighting both the exploitative practices of
many (though not all) employers and also the abuse and discrimination they face from some of their
fellow workers. The majority of the interviewees were working legally within the UK but because of
the insecurity of their work, most felt unable to take any action to enforce their rights. This research
therefore highlights the need for stronger enforcement mechanisms for existing employment rights,
as well as the extension of those rights to groups of workers currently excluded, for example because
of their immigration status. It is also a cause for concern that only one interviewee was in contact with
a trade union, suggesting that there is scope here for more outreach and organising work to gain the
trust of these vulnerable workers.
The report also outlines some of the problems that migrant workers face in other areas of their
lives (for example, housing and education), highlighting an important area for future research.
The methodology used in this research also suggests a way forward for service providers seeking
to respond to this challenge. The peer researchers used their existing networks to identify potential
interviewees, who also reported that these same networks often provided their most important source
of advice and support. This was crucially important when they first arrived in the UK, but significantly
remained so over time. There is a message here for service providers and other organisations
seeking to reach out to migrants, that these same networks potentially could offer an effective way
to reach migrants and ensure that they are able to access the services to which they are entitled,
provided they are adequately resourced to take on such a responsibility.

13
Recommendations
The interviewees were asked to give suggestions for service providers, employers, and other
organisations which work with migrants on what they could do to address the issues which most
impact on their lives in the UK. These were then discussed and prioritised by the Migrants Supporting
Migrants Group. These recommendations are a combination of those of the interviewees and those
of the MSM group.

Access to training and ESOL classes


The ability to communicate effectively in English was identified as the most important priority.
The Government should reinstate access to free ESOL classes for all migrants, regardless
of their nationality, immigration or employment status.
ESOL providers should do more to ensure that ESOL classes are accessible to those who
work by providing additional evening and weekend classes.
Vocational training should be less expensive and more flexible to ensure that migrants are able
to access it.

Work and Employment


The Government, Employers and Employment Agencies should do more to tackle the lack of
access to employment rights, unfair treatment and discrimination in the workplace experienced
by migrant workers across all sectors and provide migrants with equal opportunities in the
workplace.
Trade Unions should do more to ensure that migrant workers can benefit from their service
and ensure that information reaches people who do not speak English
Job Centre Plus and other service providers need to do more to support migrant workers to
access employment and provide more support for unemployed migrants

Advice and Information


Advice and Information providers should improve the information available to migrant workers
and ensure that migrant workers know about and can access their service by providing
information in different languages and providing a service at an easily accessible central
location in the evenings, at weekends and through e mail.
Advice agencies, FE colleges, Trade Unions and Community Support organisations should
provide better information to migrant workers on all aspects of their rights in the UK including
rights at work, housing, opening a bank account, getting a National Insurance number, the
NHS, the UK education system and how to access employment and training and form filling.

Integration
All organisations who work with migrants should support newcomers to become familiar with
UK systems and integrate into society
More information should be provided about UK life, culture and the working environment
Opportunities should be provided for migrants to meet British people

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Service Providers Approach
Any organisation which is working with migrants should understand the general issues
faced by migrants while also listening to us and dealing with our individual problems
All service providers should build the confidence and self development skills of migrants
by showing solidarity with us
Service providers should respect us and support us mentally and practically

Community Development and Influencing Opportunities


Migrants want to influence the country where we live. Our problems need to be addressed
and our voices heard by decision makers
Networks of migrants should be set up so we can lobby policymakers and promote more
positive images of migrants.

16
Migrants Supporting Migrants Oxfam
Email: info@msm-group.org Contact: Cesar Urquizo
Contacts: Ewa Wisniewska Migrant workers project worker
Negat Tafesse Oxfam GB
Piotr Pikula 494 Wilbraham Road
Miroslaw Ogorzalek Manchester
M21 9AS
Tel : 0161 860 2810
Fax: 0161 860 5600
Mobile: 07785 261022
E mail: curquizo@oxfam.org.uk

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