We use necessary cookies that allow our site to work. We also set optional cookies that help us improve our website.
For more information about the types of cookies we use, and to manage your preferences, visit our Cookies policy here.

Low pay, long hours and labour exploitation – life as a Turkish migrant worker in North London

River Thames illustration

A new report by the Refugee Workers Cultural Association lays bare the level of exploitation rife across Turkish and Kurdish migrant communities in the capital.

Many are working long hours for a low wage, sometimes as little as £3 an hour, and facing commonplace workplace abuse, at a time when we face the worst cost of living crisis in a generation.

The report outlines data gathered in 2022 from over 400 respondents, predominantly from the service industry in North London.

A severe lack of knowledge of basic worker rights, and often limited English, means many members of the community are vulnerable to exploitation and unable to look for work elsewhere.

Employers use this to their advantage, setting the floor and ceiling for wages, and often making employees work much longer hours without an increase in pay.

“Once my wife and I applied for a job at a market, they offered £275 for working 72 hours 6 days a week,” said one respondent. “We said it was very little, they said if you don't work, you know I can find someone who will.”

Another said: “I have never taken advantage of paid annual leave. Now I learn from you that I have such a right. We do not know the language in order to seek our rights.”

Employees on certain types of visas – such as those under the ‘Ankara Agreement’* - are particularly vulnerable, as they are able to run their own business but not work as an employee, meaning many are forced into informal employment.

Exploitation often takes place within local communities, and sometimes within families themselves.

One respondent said: “When the boss is a relative, you cannot do anything [about the exploitation]. We live in a vicious circle. I am on annual leave, but I am not paid. I said that my child was born, I couldn’t even take a day off from work to go to him.”

The surveys reveal that these members of the Turkish and Kurdish community commonly  earn an average of £8.77 an hour – below the minimum wage, and almost £3  below the London Living Wage.

Ibraham Avcil, Refugee Workers' Cultural Association Coordinator, believes that many of the findings will be relevant for different sectors with a high number of migrant workers.

London has become a symbol of the reality of social inequality for many Turkish and Kurdish migrants. Many people’s lives are consumed by low-wage work and they find themselves in a vicious cycle at the depths of the informal economy, oblivious to violations on their labour and human rights.  With this report, we aim to contextualise these issues, and prompt considerations for change which would improve the lives of migrant workers across the United Kingdom.

Ibrahim Avcil, Lead Researcher

You can read the report including policy recommendations, which was funded by Trust for London, here.

NOTES TO EDITOR:  *The Ankara Agreement, signed between Turkey and the European Community in 1963, facilitated and granted the right of permanent residence to individuals from Turkey who set up their own business in the UK. This became the most significant source of migration in the last 20 years. Beneficiaries then had the opportunity to bring their families to the UK. The Ankara Agreement was terminated by the UK on 31 December 2019 upon cessation of the UK’s EU membership.

10 October 2022