Precarious labour markets, precarious social citizenship? Employment experiences and coping strategies of EU migrant agency workers in low pay sectors in England

This paper discusses the employment experiences and social protection of EU migrant agency workers in England in a framework of flexible labour market regimes, workfare policies and an emergent uncertainty as regards their immigration status. The British political economy is largely characterised by poor labour market controls and increasing utilisation of atypical and precarious forms of employment, whilst access to out-of-work and in-work state support becomes increasingly difficult to access and tied to continuity of employment. The UK immigration regime compromises even further the employment conditions of migrant workers living and working under this workfare regime. The revisiting of UK-EU relations under the Brexit referendum may extend the grip that immigration rules have had on non-Europeans’ employment and social citizenship rights to EU nationals. Drawing on life-stories data of Eastern and Southern European migrant agency workers in low paid jobs in the English food industry, hospitality and domiciliary care sectors, this paper aims to explore the retrieval of formal and informal social protection resources in a setting where precarious employment regimes prevail and social citizenship rights become increasingly dependent on employment relations. On the one hand, the paper indicates the business flexible labour market strategies and public policy structures which (de)regulate temporary labour arrangements and obstruct the accrual and (re)distribution of social protection resources regardless of the result of the referendum. On the other, it analyses the conditions under which EU migrants’ transnational family relations and interpersonal networks can resist this process.

Thanos Maroukis (University of Bath)