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Multi-Ethnic Workforces in the Food Manufacturing Sector. Benjamin Hopkins Darlithydd mewn Rheoli Adnoddau Dynol /Lecturer in Human Resource Management Ysgol Rheolaeth a Busnes /School of Management and Business Prifysgol Aberystwyth / Aberystwyth University Overview.

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Multi-Ethnic Workforces in the Food Manufacturing Sector

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multi ethnic workforces in the food manufacturing sector

Multi-Ethnic Workforces in the Food Manufacturing Sector

Benjamin Hopkins

DarlithyddmewnRheoliAdnoddauDynol/Lecturer in Human Resource ManagementYsgolRheolaeth a Busnes/School of Management and BusinessPrifysgolAberystwyth/AberystwythUniversity





Why migrants are taking these jobs

Informal Hierarchies


UK workers

Migrant Workers





Large proportion of food processing roles are very low skilled

Short induction, little further skills training required

Difficulties in career progression

Flattening of formal hierarchies

Contractual Status

Temporary work used in food processing egNorkies in Burton

Increased power of consolidated supermarkets

Food processors using agency workers

informal hierarchies

Informal Hierarchies

Low skilled jobs require very little training

No hierarchy under line leader position

Smith (1994) – in the absence of formal hierarchies, informal hierarchies will form

Can be based on factors such as contractual status

BUT a further consequence of short training requirement is that it attracts migrant workers who can be shown jobs

How do informal hierarchies form in this diverse workforce?



5 Case Study Companies






88 interviews

Observational data

why are migrants taking these jobs

Why are migrants taking these jobs?

Context of A8 expansion

Get a job through an agency

Avoiding interview in English

Can get work quickly

Have downgraded on arrival in the UK

But can still get higher wages than in home country

Stepping stone into UK labour market

Aiming to improve English language skills

Also to get qualifications recognised by UK employers

Can then move into jobs that better suit their skill set


Only problem is with English. I have master of economy my degree, and I work still go up, up, up, up, but I am lazy because I’m too tired to go to college and learn English. My wife is learning in college. Me, I would like but I am too lazy, but I know I must because for me is better.

Polish Line Leader, ReadyCo

informal hierarchies1

Informal Hierarchies

Official Differing Treatment for Agency Workers

Length of contract


Benefits – even apples…


Coincidence of ethnicity and agency status

informal hierarchies2

Informal Hierarchies

Unofficial Differing Treatment

Allow permanent workers to manage temporary staff

Different tasks eg racking at ReadyCo

Groups formed at breaktimeeg canteen tables

Differing managerial views to agency and migrant workers

Investigate views of

UK managers

UK workers

Migrant/immigrant workers



Have differing views of:

UK workers

EU migrants (mainly agency)

Middle Eastern/Asian immigrants (mainly agency)



UK workers seen as:

Less affected by language barrier

Able to take on more tasks eg deliveries as they can speak English

Able to train newcomers, so informally taking on some roles of managers

Standards improved by incoming EU migrants, particularly by those from the A8 countries


Four and five years ago people from the agency were drug addicts who didn't want to work, but now you get someone from the agency and they will be really good. All the Poles have made quite a lot of difference, they are really highly motivated, because they have come here to earn money. I think they have moved the benchmark up of what agencies can offer, because all the indigenous English people have had to step up a bit as well. So in the past the people you got coming in were just pathetic, but now whoever you get in from an agency are generally quite good.

British Manager, SpiceCo



EU migrants seen as:

Hard working

Prepared to work longer hours

Despite initial reservations


From A8 managers

Language barrier


I was a supervisor at the time when we first started getting Portuguese people in, and I got twenty-seven in, and I was dreading it with the language barrier. They told me I was getting these Portuguese people in and I came through the door and I was a bit apprehensive, but after a couple of days I thought “How superb”. You had to tell them to go to break. It was not “I have not been for my tea break” or “When can I swap?” They didn’t complain about anything and I had to tell them to go to break, and I had to tell them to go home, and I found that such a culture shock.

British Operations Manager, TurkeyCo


Having an all Polish team everyone said “How are you going to do?” but they are brilliant…It has just been good, they are a really good team.

British Manager, ReadyCo


I am not racist or anything, I am half-caste myself, my mum is white and my dad is Pakistani, but these Polish people that work here, a lot of them speak very good English, but a lot of them have just come over and they are learning. They have got jobs here but when you explain to them something after 10 hours you get pissed off because they don't understand.

British Manager, ReadyCo


It is the same with Scotland, turnips and swedes and parsnips are all the same thing there, they call them neeps or something. Here we have a turnip, a swede and a parsnip. Once they understand that they are three different components that do different things we are fine.

British Manager, ReadyCo


Now we have a lot of Polish people here, and three years ago they came here very energetic, the Polish people want to work because they know they get a chance and they have to do everything the best that they can. Now they come very lazy people because they are coming because of their family or they are coming because of somebody else and they know that if they lose this job they can find another job, and they don't care about the job now.

Polish Manager, ReadyCo



Middle Eastern/Asian immigrants seen as:

More distant

Severe language issues, can only take on tasks that can be visibly shown

Cultural differences


I’m not racist in any way or anything, but you know when its busy and I walk down from the car park, I walk in and not one person’s speaking English, I feel uncomfortable when I come into work. And so that’s how it makes you feel. And I’ve spoken to a couple of our guys who’ve been here a long time, and they say when they go into the changing area, again, you know, only jokingly, and they don’t mean nothing by it but they’ll say “God, its like we’re on holiday. Its like we’re in Mecca. There’s people praying and all sorts on the floor”. They’re not doing it in a nasty way, its just I feel uncomfortable. I don’t feel as I’m in England.

British Manager, ChocCo

uk workers1

UK Workers

Resentment of taking low skill or temporary jobs

See migrant/immigrant workers as competitors

As with managers, have differing views of different groups of migrant workers

Language difficulties with A8 migrants


We should be more entitled to the jobs before the Polish and this lot…The British people feel let down because of people coming in and taking their jobs who can't talk English. People have generally thought ‘I can't get a job and they [migrant workers] come and go to an agency and go straight into a job’. I think if you put a questionnaire out to the Brits here about what you think the worst issue is they will say all these immigrants taking our jobs… I used to read in the papers they are all coming in taking our jobs, but until I came here I didn't know. Where I used to work there was no immigrants at all. I mean Poles, not coloured people. If you didn't talk English you wouldn't get through the door.

British Worker, ChocCo


If they are coming over I think they should know the English, it is only fair…I am not taking sides but if you can't understand someone, it is hard work isn't it?...You can get through on the basics, but sometimes when they look at you, you say “Can you do that?” and they go “Huh”? But that is the way it is going now, and Mr Blair let them all in didn't he?

British Worker, SpiceCo

uk workers2

UK Workers

As with managers, feel further distanced from Middle Eastern/Asian migrants

More severe language difficulties seen as impairing ability to do the job

Coupled with cultural differences, so do not form friendship groups


What is happening with our line, everybody seems to be like, how can I say, there are different races coming on all the time. There is not a constant. I think if you want to keep a line busy and working more efficient you want the same people.

British Worker, ChocCo


When I first started here I thought I was at [local airport], there were so many different people here. I didn't know the country was in such a bad state…If I had an Indian who talks Indian and he tells me I come from [local city] and I'm British, I joke and I say you all look the same to me.

British Worker, ChocCo

migrant workers1

Migrant Workers

Use agencies to avoid job interviews, but receive poorer treatment than permanent (mainly British) workers

Formal eg wages, job security

Informal eg differing tasks

But hierarchies are also formed within these groups, although managers may see them as homogenous


There have been a few fights in my area… The biggest difference that I have seen is between Polish and Pakistanis and Indians. There is a big, big difference because the Polish are just not used to it. In Poland, from what I know from speaking to them, you don't get many Asians or Pakistanis in Poland. When they come over suddenly there are loads, and they have never really encountered it… The Polish see the Pakistanis and the Indians as quite lazy. Some of them are, but I have had to tell them a lot of the time that you can't generalise. You can't do it, you can't be racist, and a lot of them are. A lot of them are actually racist, and you talk to them about it and they will say “That Pakistani whatever” and they will refer to them like that.

British Manager, ReadyCo

In this factory there are Polish people and they sit together, and I sit alone because I am different.

Lithuanian Agency Worker, SpiceCo


The only racial issues we have are between groups of the same nationality who see differences within their own nationality that we don’t see. A Portuguese person from mainland Portugal and a Portuguese person from East Timor or Madeira will see differences in their own identity, and that can cause conflict. They have a hierarchy that we don’t see.

British HR Manager, TurkeyCo


Sometimes some people, and not with Portuguese and Angola, maybe some with Cape Vertian and Angolan, but that is not me because I don’t like going fighting and conflicting, I like to win money, that is my purity. But some people they don’t grow up you know, in their minds, so they keep fighting every time they go to discos. They drink their mind so they fight...Two weekends ago, three girls beat one and then the police went there. The three girls work here and they beat one that works here, they are all Portuguese. Three Cape Vertian girls against one Portuguese girl, so they beat the girl.

Portuguese Temporary Worker, TurkeyCo

informal hierarchies3

Informal Hierarchies

Firms create differences between staff

But informal hierarchies are also formed

Coincidence of contractual status and ethnicity

Informal hierarchies within groups

questions comments beh@aber ac uk