A new study from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation Experiences of forced labour among Chinese migrant workers highlights the extent of Chinese migrants’ exploitation at work. It examines what makes workers vulnerable to forced labour, and considers the complex relationships between migration, work and family.
The Chinese workers in the study moved to the UK to improve the lives of their families. Most migrate with the aid of travel facilitators, incurring large debts. They often end up working long hours in poor conditions for pay well below the minimum wage.
Key findings include:
Exploitation was widespread, and all the migrant workers received very low levels of pay. Employers flouted immigration and employment regulations to make use of cheap, flexible labour.
Most migrants were working with irregular immigration status, which caused them considerable anxiety. Their understanding of the immigration system was poor, and made worse by misinformation and low levels of English language ability.
Families were sources both of support and of pressure to keep earning. The role of family was important in understanding workers’ experiences.
Economic and social conditions in China and the UK were important in the complex decisions workers made about their lives. They balanced bleak prospects at home with perceived opportunities in the UK to improve their families’ living conditions.
Government, business regulators, trade unions, Chinese businesses and community organisations could take inter-related actions to improve conditions for Chinese migrant workers. These include:
ratifying international directives;
enforcing business regulations;
enhancing Chinese businesses’ good employment practices;
ensuring the accessibility of information on the UK immigration and
asylum system; and
improving local support for migrant workers.