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Spotlight on: Refugee Workers' Cultural Association

Author: Ibrahim Avcil, RWCA

Refugee and Workers' Cultural Association is an educational and social charity based in Tottenham that supports Turkish and Kurdish migrants integrate into the UK. Under our Better Work programme, they have carried out research into workplace exploitation among this community. Currently, we are funding them to target exploitative practises and raise awareness to ensure workers understand their rights. Here, Ibrahim Avcil outlines some of the key issues facing Turkish and Kurdish refugees.

The issue

Events such as Brexit, COVID-19 and, most recently, an intense cost of living crisis which has gripped businesses and workers across the spectrum have set off, or worsened, many of the issues impacting on people’s everyday lives. Migrant workers – both documented and undocumented – are especially vulnerable.

Through our research we know that low pay – below minimum wage – and a lack of basic worker rights, such as holiday entitlement, sick pay and maternity pay, are rife among migrant workers in London. These are major problems that will continue throughout 2023.

Quotes from Turkish and Kurdish migrant workers

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


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.


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.


Exploitation of migrant workers is an extensive and multi-faceted issue – but financial instability is a key factor. The cost of living in London is high and accommodation – more specifically, rent – is the greatest expense.

Expensive housing costs act as the trigger for many other problems. The risk of exploitation at work; falling into debt; poor mental health; domestic violence; poor nutrition; drug addiction – all of these issues and more are made more likely by a lack of disposable income after paying rent.

The solution

We need to better understand these issues faced by migrant workers, with an emphasis on housing. More research should take place, both qualitative and quantitative, to identify the necessary solutions to alleviate rent induced problems faced by migrant workers. The approach will need to take place at both a policy and grassroots level.

At a policy level, we would like it to be made easier for migrant workers to be able to legally rent rooms or homes without extensive documentation, levels of income declarations and other administrative burdens.

We would also like to see an independent community-led regulatory body which assesses private rent and landlord misconduct – available in multiple language. Those facing evictions should be able to access emergency funds to prevent homelessness.

Finally, undocumented migrant workers – whose issues are compounded by their immigration status – should be offered a resolution or amnesty, to protect them when they rent private accommodation.