SSAMIS: Employment

Between 2013 and 2017, the Social Support and Migration in Scotland (SSAMIS) project interviewed over 200 migrants and 60 experts across Scotland, focusing their work on Aberdeen City and rural Aberdeenshire.

Note on method and sample for Employment section: Most research participants worked in the fish industry, agriculture, or low-skilled sectors like care or hospitality. Very few were unemployed. A small number were selfemployed or owned businesses, usually having lived in Scotland for at least five years.


Finding stable employment was a key motivating factor for Central and Eastern
European (CEE) migrants coming to Scotland. Other factors motivated long-term settlement, including family, lifestyle, long-term security and welfare support. Migrants found work through agencies (in country of origin or after arrival); through existing social networks in North East Scotland; and less often through local resources (websites, JobCentre, etc).

The insecurity of low-skilled, low-paid work

Many participants discussed their vulnerability in a pool of unskilled labour, especially new arrivals, those with lower levels of English, and those with long-term agency work or zero-hours contracts. Difficulties included: not receiving full pay; not understanding employment contracts; not knowing about rights such as paid leave; discrimination
around language use; inter-nationality group tensions; only being told their hours at short notice; being unable to make plans due to a lack of reliable income; being forced to move around Scotland or the UK for seasonal work. Migrants could also be reluctant to take up certain rights for fear of losing their jobs.

Work hazards

The Aberdeenshire fishing industry could be dangerous; several migrants had lost
family or friends working on boats or in factories. Fish factory work could cause chronic health issues such as skin conditions or repetitive strain injuries.

Occupational mobility

Many migrants were overqualified for their low-skilled roles, and while they had generally arrived in Scotland with plans to accept low-skilled work, many became ‘stuck’ due to low English language skills and a lack of opportunities or time to improve them, or to improve other qualifications. There was also a lack of varied jobs and industries in rural Aberdeenshire. Whatever the reason, de-skilling had negative emotional effects, especially for those staying long-term who were unable to find work more suited to their education, skills and previous experience. One way migrants responded to this was to become self-employed in sectors such as construction, mechanics, interpreting, cake decorating, or beauty and hairdressing. Others gained experience via volunteering, which led to better local knowledge and social networks, which in turn improved
occupational mobility. However, some sectors (such as the oil industry) could be difficult to access due to migrants’ lack of local networks and industry contacts.

Building connections

Positive relationships with employers and co-workers (generally other migrants) were key to job satisfaction and vital to finding housing, understanding bureaucratic
processes, building local networks and developing a safety net. It was relatively rare for migrants to form bonds with Scottish co-workers, and many spoke Polish or Russian at work, which hindered chances to improve English skills. However, some migrants worked long-term in smaller businesses or farms, where they interacted with Scottish locals.

More information, including briefing papers on a range of topics, is available on the SSAMIS website: Link.

Data Source:  2017, Summary write-up based on SSAMIS project fieldwork. Link.
Category:  Qualitative Data
Topics:  Aberdeen City  Aberdeenshire  Employment  Immigration