Funded by: ESRC

Investigators: Dr Gabriella Alberti (PI), Leeds University Business School; Prof Chris Forde, Digit Deputy Director and Co-lead for the Data Observatory; Dr Ioulia Bessa, Digit Co-lead for Research Theme 1; Dr Jo Cutter, Leeds University Business School; Dr Zyama Ciupijus, Leeds University Business School; Dr Gary Graham, Leeds University Business School and Dr Eleanora Morganti, Institute for Transport Studies, Leeds University 

This project has been funded by the ESRC (£970k) and will run from late 2021-2024.

Labour mobility has been a key feature of the UK’s employment model, particularly since the enlargement of the European Union. The ending of freedom of movement of labour as a result of the UK’s exit from the EU constitutes an unprecedented case of re-regulation of labour mobility, with wide implications for work and employment in low-skilled sectors. Alongside this, the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a crisis of mobility, with the closure of national borders exposing how jobs in sectors considered vital (Cabinet Office, 2020) tend to rely on migrant labour.

Our research will examine how multiple stakeholders navigate this double transition. The research will look at how the actions of stakeholders (employers, employer representatives, unions, civil society groups, migrant support groups and migrant workers) and social dialogue shapes new patterns of labour mobility and changes in employment practices.

The research will focus on 4 specific sectors, where there is extensive use of migrant workers: food and drink processing; social care; hospitality and logistics/warehousing.

The research will involve an original survey of employers, sectoral case studies and focus groups and workshops with a wide range of stakeholders.

One key area of focus of the research will be to examine the consequences of the adoption of new technologies such as automation and digitalisation in the sectors under study. This connects with core themes of interest of Digit.

The project will address the following questions:

  • How are employers in key low-paid sectors (social care, hospitality, food and drink processing and warehousing) responding to the changes of the post-Brexit and post-pandemic settlement?
  • What are the discrete ways in which different stakeholders manage the end of free movement in terms of recruitment, retention, (re)training, or substitution strategies?
  • What are the primary consequences of the adoption of new technologies such as automation and digitalisation in sectors like food and drink processing and warehousing
  • How are migrant workers faring in the UK labour market after the introduction of the new migration system and how are labour intermediaries and transnational networks (‘migration infrastructures’) shaping their socio-economic experiences in the transition?
  • How is social dialogue between ‘old’ and ‘new’ actors developing and influencing employers’ strategies and workers’ experiences towards an inclusive and sustainable recovery

The project will involve participatory engagement and reflective learning with a wide range of stakeholders to co-produce knowledge.  A range of workshops to bring together stakeholders at sectoral and regional levels to engage in discussion, and capture good practice around dialogue, share knowledge, and translate findings back into policy fora. Each workshop will involve around 20 participants and be held in different city locations that facilitate access in both the North and South, including where hubs of activity in innovative practice in managing labour mobilities are taking place.

The project will produce a range of outputs, accessible to a wide range of users, including a webinar/seminar series and guides on dialogue around migration.