Working Paper

Are You Being Served? Employer Demand for Migrant Labour in the UK’s Hospitality Sector

Published 1 January 2007 / By Martin Ruhs, Gareth Matthews

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This paper explores the nature of staff shortages in the UK 's hospitality sector, with a focus on the role of migrant workers in meeting and shaping employer demand for labour. Drawing on data from in-depth and survey interviews, we explore the key competencies, personal attributes and employment relations that hospitality employers demand from their employees, and the implications for whom employers recruit from a highly diverse pool of available workers differentiated by gender, race, ethnicity and nationality. We find that employers' recruitment decisions are driven by three major objectives that include: (i) minimizing labour costs; (ii) reducing the indeterminacy of labour through recruiting "good attitude" rather than technical skills; and (iii) managing the mobility of workers to find the optimal balance between the labour retention and flexibility needs of the business. The pursuit of these goals has encouraged most employers interviewed in this study to develop a preference for migrant workers over British workers, and, more generally, to distinguish and recruit workers largely based on their nationality. Although interlaced with gender, race and ethnicity, employers' highly stereotyped perceptions of "national characteristics" are used as the key proxy for assessing candidates' suitability for specific occupations. These findings open up an important debate about the meaning and desirable policy response to the persistent "skills shortages" and "labour shortages" reported in the UK 's hospitality sector.


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