Globe, Migrants, Multiculture, United Kingdom

Immigrant workers: mistreatment in your own language

A large percentage of Latin Americans live with the daily psychological torture their superiors inflict on them. They are intimidated, insulted and treated with contempt. Sadly, in many cases this mistreatment takes place in their own language.


Olga Briasco       


Many Latin Americans came to London a decade ago in search of economic prosperity and an escape from the violence of their own countries. Others have come more recently from Spain, along with a considerable number of Spanish people who have themselves joined the influx of migrants.

Whatever their origin, the reality of life in Britain hits immigrants hard: they work ungodly hours, their salaries don’t cover their basic needs and they feel unfulfilled professionally.

It is a life that neither the 113,500 Latin Americans nor the 32,000 Spaniards currently living in London (according to the 2011 census) expected. The majority are highly qualified, 70% having gone on to further education and 13% holding both undergraduate and postgraduate degrees.

However, these qualifications mean nothing in England unless they were awarded by a European institution; add to this the fact that employers require a high level of English and legal status and the obstacles to employment become clear.

A study carried out by the Queen Mary University of London found that a third of the Latin American population had either a basic understanding of English or no understanding whatsoever. According to figures from other sources, the Spanish population fares no better.

For psychopedagogist and director of Teléfono de la Esperanza de Londres, Nancy Liscano, this is key to their integration in British society and advancement in the labour market. “In order to provide for their families they have to work long hours and don’t have the time to study English,” Liscano, who is also the author of a study entitled “Evidence of workplace harassment affecting Spanish and Latin Americans living in London”, explains.

Despite these obstacles, at 85%, employment rates within the Spanish-speaking community – the Spanish and Latin Americans – are relatively high. Only a minority, however, manage to find work within their chosen profession. The jobs they carry out are unskilled and badly paid. As a result, many Latin Americans are forced to work an average of 38 hours a week.

In addition, two thirds of the Latin American population are obliged to juggle several temporary jobs and work more than 35 hours a week.

What is more, 14% work in excess of the 48 hour per week maximum set out by the European Working Time Directive.

This sort of exploitation often goes unreported as immigrants fear being deported from the country or left to face increased competition for jobs. Their fears are then exploited by companies who use them to lower pay, increase the workload, abuse their authority and show contempt for their workers.

Indeed, this is precisely what happened a few years ago in the so-called “Amey case”, in which 36 Latin Americans hired to clean the National Physical Laboratory were intimidated and turned over to the police.

After workers contested their employer’s abusive policies, Amey decided to denounce them to immigration police and ‘innocently’ call a meeting of their employees. When the workers arrived to discuss their grievances, 60 immigration officers showed up ‘out of the blue’. Those left behind after the raid teamed up to publically protest what had happened.

These protestors were then fired because their actions had “damaged the company’s image”. This drove them to make a claim against Amey for unfair dismissal, racial discrimination and health and safety violations.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case: 40% of the Latin American population claim to have had problems at work. Of this group, more than half had not been paid for work carried out and over a third had been verbally abused. Most verbal abuse (62.5%) came from bosses; colleagues were to blame in 18.6% of cases, and subordinates in 4.7%.

Moreover, 27.9% of those surveyed claimed to have received abuse from both colleagues and a superior.

Curiously though, fellow members of the Spanish-speaking community were often the ones doling out the abuse. According to Liscano, Spanish-speaking tormentors were accused of making unfounded accusations, exaggerating mistakes and treating their co-workers with contempt.

By contrast, British bosses tended to flaunt their authority and disdain by making unequal evaluations, humiliating their employees and depriving them of important information regarding workers’ rights.

Some more at risk than others

This alarming practice affected 23.3% of men and 76.7% of women. Yet Liscano’s findings suggest “women make the most complaints, but it is men who suffer the most”.

Men are ignored, criticised, reprimanded and disparaged both personally and professionally.

Women, on the other hand, are unfairly accused of mistakes, their shortcomings are exaggerated and they are even criticised over personal matters like their private life.

Liscano’s study, carried out on a pool of 163 Spanish and Latin American immigrants living and working in London, shows that Colombians are the most vulnerable to discrimination, accounting for 38.5% of claims of mistreatment.

The Spanish made up 32.9% of the total, Ecuadorians 19.6%, Peruvians 1.4%, and Chileans, Argentineans, Mexicans and Venezuelans accounted for 0.7%.

In terms of professions most likely to suffer this type of harassment, teachers were the victims in 66.7% of cases, pedagogical coordinators in 33.3%, engineers in…, supervisors in 33.3%, waiting staff in 27.3% and cleaners in 23.4%.

It is a situation which is not easily remedied given the potential consequences for Spanish-speaking immigrants who speak out: dismissal, referral to immigration authorities and long-term unemployment. (The Prisma’s memoirs. March,2013)

(Translated by Fiona Marshall – Email: –  Photos: Pixabay


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