«Work, care and life among low-paid migrant workers in London: towards a migrant ethic of care November 2006 Kavita Datta, Cathy McIlwaine, Yara ...»
Methodological framework This paper draws on a mixed method methodological framework comprising a questionnaire survey and in-depth interviews conducted with workers in five low paid sectors of the London economy, namely contracted cleaning staff working on the London Underground, general office cleaning, hospitality workers, particularly focused on luxury hotels and home care employment. In addition, a number of workers in the food processing and construction industry were interviewed. Our broad aim was to explore who was working, and under what conditions, at the bottom end of the London labour market.
The questionnaire survey investigated the pay, working conditions, household circumstances and migration histories of workers (see Evans et al., 2005).4 Respondents were accessed through existing contacts with trade union representatives, through snowballing and also via a random coldcalling process. The survey was conducted in two stages. In the first stage, 340 interviews were conducted with low-paid workers of whom 90 percent were migrant workers. In the second stage, we conducted interviews only with migrant workers. In total 396 low paid workers have been interviewed of whom 362 are migrants. In-depth interviews followed on from the questionnaire survey and have been conducted by the authors. In the main, access to respondents has been facilitated by following up on people who participated in the questionnaire survey and expressed an interest in being interviewed, while other workers have been accessed via snowballing. These interviews have gathered information on migration histories, settlement experiences in the UK, attitudes and feelings towards employment, household circumstances and coping strategies, together with issues surrounding community identity and linkages with home countries. The majority of questionnaire and all the in-depth interviews were conducted face-to-face in a range of languages including English, Polish, Portuguese and Spanish. The migrants came from 56 different countries and included both documented and undocumented migrants.
This paper draws on two data sets. The section on care workers focuses specifically on the questionnaire interviews conducted with care workers (59 in total) as well as 18 in-depth interviews. All of the interviews were conducted with care workers who provided home care for the elderly and/or disabled. Both the questionnaire survey and the in-depth interviews conducted in this sector reveal a distinct gender, ethnic and racial bias in that most of the respondents were women (46 or 85 percent of those included in the questionnaire interviews and 12 of the in-depth interviews); a significant proportion of the respondents were of African origin and especially from Nigeria and Ghana (11 and 9 of the questionnaire respondents, with 11 of the in-depth interviews being conducted with Ghanaian nationals). As a result, most of the care-workers that we interviewed were Black African women. In comparison with the other sectors on which we focused, the pay and conditions of employment were better in the care sector. Care workers were concentrated among the better paid in the groups we surveyed, such that nearly one half of them earned hourly rates of between £5.51 and up to £6.69 an hour, whilst a further two-fifths actually earned above the Living Wage rate of £6.70 per hour (see Evans et al., 2005 for further details).5 The second section of this paper which focuses on work-care strategies of migrants and their worklife balance draws upon the data set of 362 questionnaire interviews as well as 74 in-depth interviews. The latter comprise of 18 in-depth interviews conducted with care workers, 11 interviews were carried out with hospitality workers; 23 with construction workers; 10 with contract office cleaners, 11 with cleaners on the London Underground and 1 with a migrant working in food processing. The type of unpaid caring included here revolves mainly around care of children rather than elderly.
Also important to highlight here as a methodological and also a wider conceptual issue is that the data discussed here represents not only a partial reality, but also a public narrative on the part of the migrants. In light of the huge diversity of countries included in the research, we need to recognise that we focus on only one dimension of migrant’s lives in London, largely neglecting the nature and complexities of their lives in their home countries. In turn, migrants may also choose to present their ‘public’ reflections during the research encounter, keeping their ‘private’ thoughts to themselves.
Migrants as paid care-providers: towards a migrant ethic of care?
In this section we focus on two key issues. The first is an exploration of migrants’ understandings of care and caring values and systems in their work and how these feed into the construction of a migrant ethic of care. Second, we examine the implications of such an ethics of care in terms of the construction of care relationships with care recipients focusing particularly on how these intersect with gender, race and ethnicity. Here it is important to understand the distinction between caregiving and caring relationships. Interweaving these with Duffy’s (2005) division of social reproductive work into nurturance and reproductive tasks, care-giving relationships are embedded in marketised systems of care and are predominantly concerned with the provision of reproductive labour such as cleaning, washing and so on. In contrast, caring spaces are the product of nurturance labour. This said, it is important to understand the intersections between the two as well. We focus on how migrant workers themselves construct their care work from the perspective of nurturance and caring while the system and working codes of home-care concentrate broadly on the (marketised) reproductive labour and care-giving approach. The ambiguities we uncover in how workers construct the meaning of their caring jobs, and especially how these are gendered, resonates with the comment by McKie et al. (2001: 237) who note: “If home-based caring is strongly gendered and often undervalued it is not surprising if it also generates intense and ambivalent feelings amongst carers. There are many pleasures and delights in caring work as well as drudgery and exhaustion and these pleasures become caught in our understandings of the home and of gendered work”.
The construction of caring values among migrant care workers Migrant care workers held strong views about the nature of their work. Bearing in mind the caveats outline above about the difficulties in representing the diversity of nationalities and cultures included in our research, generally speaking, these were constructed around an ethic of care based on various dimensions of nurturance that were strongly influenced by gender, ethnicity and especially by faith-based values focusing on respect and a strong sense of familial hierarchy and tradition. This system of nurturance and ethic of care was constructed as being clearly distinct and superior from British care values that were viewed in a fairly pejorative manner. Many migrant care workers spoke about the general lack of compassion among people in London compared to their own countries. They contrasted this with their own native willingness to help others, with several pointing out that a passer-by in London will usually ignore a stranger in need of aid (see also Herbert et al., 2006). As Joshua remarked, “Like you come into my country, how I will feed you, I will embrace you, they call it Ghanaian hospitality and I not find it here.” Similarly, describing her home city in Ghana, Komla said that, “Accra is a nice place and you have--people are very nice, more especially when you are a foreigner, they are very nice to you, because it’s kind of the ethics there, so far as you were born in the home and grew up in the home, they give you that kind of training that … people you don’t know, you have to show some kind of kindness to them.” Arfua, also from Ghana echoed this, “As for Ghanaians, we are helpers, Ghanaians are helpers you know. But here, you don’t get that help.” Respect and discipline were identified as being central to the migrant workers’ construction of care, and were closely tied up with understandings of age and generation. Migrant workers had a veneration of age that was rooted in the cultures of their home nations (most of which, but not all, were sub-Saharan African).1 The majority of the care workers spoke about the poor socialisation of young people in Britain that resulted in their failure to respect older people which they attributed to a lack of proper discipline. As Mary explained, “Back in Ghana, you respect age. They respect age and everybody is everybody’s keeper, the child is not necessarily your child before you can discipline that child”. People often illustrated the lack of respect for older people in Britain by drawing on the example of young people on London buses who routinely failed to offer their seats
to older people. In relation to this, Kaya complained about British children:
“You dare not tell a British child here, “Get up and let the old--,” it’s “OK,” ain’t it?
They go like that. Where’s the respect? They don’t show respect, they don’t respect.
They don’t show respect. …You sit in the bus the children are shouting, screaming whilst older people stand, they don’t care.” The importance of children, and the wider extended family, in the provision of care for elderly relatives was also raised by many respondents. In turn, they were very critical of the prevalent marketised systems of care in Britain that placed the care of the elderly in the hands of strangers as opposed to family (see also Mattingly, 2001 who details how the institutional care of the elderly is an important component of the new international organisation of caring labour). Perhaps the most virulent attack came from Adowa, a 51 year old Ghanaian care worker, who had four children of
her own, and said of her first care job:
“The first one was a shock. Because I started with home care, and as I said before, back home, when you are old, you are respected. But what I found was, it was something like a culture shock or something, you know, where somebody had eight children and you cannot find any of the children. This person is old, for God’s sake, where are the children? … Back home, even if you don’t have a child, once you are old, you are the responsibility of Again, it is important to point out that this a generalisation that will also vary from country to country within sub-Saharan Africa as well as within countries, according to a host of different axes such as rural-urban residence, class and ethnicity (see for example, Ardayfio-Schandorf, 2004 on family and gender norms in Ghana) the community, the extended family, so there is no way that you have a child and you grow old and your children will not be there, no way.” The same sentiments were echoed by Ajua, also Ghanaian, who spoke about how she had been exposed to new experiences of “the way sometimes relatives treat their mothers who are older people.” Likewise, Addae stressed that in Ghana one could not “hire somebody to come and look after your mum for you.” Indeed, so different were the systems of care at home and in the UK that migrant workers like Kaya said that she would not like to work in care for more than two to three years and did not want to spend any of her own money on an NVQ6 as this qualification was useless in her country where “you don’t have care”. By this she meant that in Ghana, “they don’t send their family to residential homes for people no no. I never did that to my mum.” Thus, a moral superiority emerged among many care workers in relation to the work they were doing, and in relation to the wider British society. As low-paid migrant workers, it could be argued that this allows carers to feel better not just about their jobs, but also about the social and economic exclusion that they experience as part of living in London (Herbert et al., 2006).
The care values which some of the migrant men and women articulated were also based upon strongly-held religious beliefs. This was perhaps best illustrated by Addae, a care worker from Ghana, who said that “everybody have to be treated nicely. Yeah, everybody have to be treated nicely. What you don’t like to be done unto you, you don’t do it to others. You know. Don’t do it to others,” (see below also). What is also striking in this extract is how Addae highlights the relational aspect of care which links care workers with care recipients, and exhibits an ethic of care which is based on the self as well as others, a point to which we return below.