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Employers' use of low-skilled migrant workers: Assessing the implications for human resource management


  • Chris Forde
  • Robert MacKenzie


Purpose - The purpose of this paper is to explore the implications for HRM of employers' use of migrants in low-skilled work in a UK-based firm. Is the use of migrant workers for low skilled work associated with “soft” or “hard” approaches to HRM? How do employers recruit migrant workers? What career progression paths are available to these workers in firms? What are the expectations and aspirations of migrant workers? Design/methodology/approach - The paper examines these issues through a case study of a UK-based employer using large numbers of migrant workers. The paper draws on data from a survey of migrant workers in the firm conducted in 2006, and from interviews with managers and migrant workers within this firm, conducted between 2005 and 2006. Findings - The paper highlights the “hard” HRM strategy pursued by the company in order to maintain a competitive advantage based on low labour costs and substitutability of workers. A contradiction is noted between the desire of the firm to retain migrant workers with a strong work ethic and gain high commitment, on the one hand, and their continued attempt to compete on the basis on minimal labour costs and follow a “hard” approach to HRM, on the other. Practical implications - The paper points to the importance of analysis of employers' use of migrants and the strategies they are adopting towards using these workers. Developing an understanding of these strategies is critical to understanding the social and economic experiences of migrant workers. Originality/value - The paper combines qualitative and quantitative research through an intensive case study to illuminate the implications for HRM of employers' use of migrants in low-skilled jobs.

Suggested Citation

  • Chris Forde & Robert MacKenzie, 2009. "Employers' use of low-skilled migrant workers: Assessing the implications for human resource management," International Journal of Manpower, Emerald Group Publishing, vol. 30(5), pages 437-452, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:eme:ijmpps:v:30:y:2009:i:5:p:437-452

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