Labour Markets, Institutions and Inequality

Labour Markets, Institutions and Inequality

Building Just Societies in the 21st Century

Edited by Janine Berg

Labour market institutions, including collective bargaining, the regulation of employment contracts and social protection policies, are instrumental for improving the well-being of workers, their families and society. In many countries, these institutions have been eroded, whilst in other countries they do not exist at all.

Chapter 13: Inequalities and the impact of labour market institutions on migrant workers

Christiane Kuptsch

Subjects: development studies, development economics, economics and finance, development economics, labour economics, social policy and sociology, labour policy


Contemporary global migration is linked intrinsically to the world of work. People move in search of employment; family members accompany workers to foreign countries and may enter the labour market themselves; training and educational opportunities abroad lead to employment; and changed patterns of labour force participation and social reproduction in one place set off migration flows in from another place. The International Labour Office (ILO) estimates that approximately half of the estimated 214 million international migrants globally are economically active (ILO, 2010, p. 2). The identity of the migrant in employment cannot be separated from his or her status as a worker and consequently, labour market institutions have a potentially important effect on migrant workers’ working conditions as well as their inequality vis-a-vis non-migrant workers. The focus of this chapter is on international migration as opposed to internal migration, although in terms of economic theory there is no difference between the two. Differences stem from legal issues that arise when someone wishes to cross a border to take up employment in a foreign country or when an employer reaches across the border to recruit a non-national. These issues will be discussed in this chapter. The focus of the chapter is on the more vulnerable groups of migrant workers, namely those who hold jobs that require low or mid-level skills. These migrants have a harder time than highly skilled professionals to defend their interests and their rights, making protection via labour market institutions essential for them.

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