Informal hierarchies amongst workers in low skill food manufacturing jobs

Benjamin Arthur Hopkins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article examines the creation of informal workplace hierarchies in the context of recent changes in the UK labour market. Previous studies have identified that deskilling of jobs has removed formal hierarchies among many production workers, and that informal hierarchies based upon factors such as contractual status have formed in their place. The aim of this article is to examine how changes in the labour force mean that new informal hierarchies have developed among migrant and immigrant workers who take these jobs through an agency. Research consisted of 50 semi-structured interviews, coupled with lengthy observation of both work and social settings, at three food manufacturers. The article finds that language and cultural issues create a complex informal hierarchy not only between directly employed and agency workers, but also among and within different groups of migrant and immigrant agency workers.

The accession of the A8 nations of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) to the European Union (EU) in May 2004 (see, e.g. Anderson et al., 2006; Drinkwater et al., 2006; McDowell et al., 2008), coupled with immigration from outside of the EU (Pillai et al., 2007; Vertovec, 2006), has seen a rapid change in the makeup of the UK labour force taking lower skilled jobs, particularly among those who seek roles through employment agencies. This article aims to examine how these changes have affected directly employed managers and workers, as well as examining the experiences of the mainly migrant and immigrant workforces who take these low-skilled jobs through an employment agency. The article investigates how, although the low-skilled nature of jobs in industries such as food manufacturing has removed many official hierarchies, recent changes in the labour market have created informal hierarchies based upon workers' contractual status and ethnicities. It investigates the intersectionality of people's status as an agency worker and also as a migrant or immigrant worker, and how complex inter- and intragroup relations are constructed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)486–499
JournalIndustrial Relations Journal
Issue number6
Early online date26 Jun 2011
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2011


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