Differences in working conditions between migrant and native workers

In general, migrant workers experience poorer quality of work and lower level of health than their Dutch counterparts. Examining the situation for the first and second generation of migrant workers indicates that the first generation fares worst, while the second generation experiences a quality of work and health that is comparable to that of Dutch workers. However, an exception arises in relation to violence and harassment in the workplace, which is still experienced to a significant degree by second generation migrant workers.

Migrants are often found to report more health problems, associated with their relatively poor position in the labour market and corresponding working conditions. Nevertheless, according to a representative dataset of the Dutch workforce, second generation migrant workers appear to be better integrated than first generation migrants. The latter group mainly took up the kind of jobs that Dutch workers were not willing to do any more, namely physically arduous work which did not require a high level of education and is frequently related to poor working conditions. However, their children – the so-called ‘second generation migrants’ – often have the same educational level as the native Dutch population, and have learned to speak Dutch. These qualifications are thought to be key assets for a better labour market position. In fact, the younger migrants enjoy conditions that are almost equal to those of their Dutch colleagues, with the exception of being more often exposed to violence and harassment in the workplace.

Survey methodology

Since 2003, TNO Work and Employment has conducted the Netherlands Working Conditions Survey (Nationale Enquête Arbeidsomstandigheden, NEA) on Dutch employees every second year. In 2005, the Central Bureau of Statistics (Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek, CBS) provided additional information on the background of approximately 23,000 survey participants. Persons were classified as first generation migrants if they and at least one of their parents were born abroad. Second generation migrants were defined as persons who were born in the Netherlands, of whom at least one parent was born abroad. This definition is not necessarily based on the principle of nationality, since people can obtain Dutch citizenship when at least one of their parents holds this at the time of birth. Second generation migrants in the definition used here may even have two nationalities, since some countries of the parent’s origin stipulate that the nationality is passed on by that parent, such as Morocco.

Different jobs for first and second generation workers

Second generation workers are on average aged 36.3 years, which is much younger than both native Dutch (39.8 years) and first generation workers (39.5 years). Furthermore, they work in different occupations (Figure 1). The first generation workers mainly appear to have manual and industrial or service jobs, such as in the cleaning industry, whereas a large proportion of second generation migrants work in administrative and commercial jobs.

Figure 1: Native Dutch and migrant workers, by occupation (%)


Source: NEA/CBS, 2005

Native Dutch and migrant workers, by occupation (%)

Differences in health complaints and work absence

First generation migrants report a lower level of general health, at 3.2 on a 5-point scale compared with approximately 3.4 for both native Dutch workers and second generation workers. They also require more time to recover after work than native Dutch and second generation workers do (Figure 2). Furthermore, first generation migrants are more frequently absent from work, which they are more likely to attribute to their work.

Figure 2: Negative health impacts among native Dutch and migrant workers (%)


Source: NEA/CBS, 2005

Negative health impacts of work (%)

Differences in working conditions

The emotional load of the work of first generation migrants was found to be similar to that of native Dutch workers and second generation workers. Conversely, for all other working conditions indicators, the situation for first generation workers was slightly worse than for both native Dutch and second generation workers (Figure 3). The working conditions of native Dutch workers and second generation workers are virtually equal. Moreover, first generation migrants also report less autonomy than other workers, and experience uncomfortable noise levels to a slightly higher degree.

Figure 3: Working conditions of native Dutch and migrant workers (4-point scale)


Source: NEA/CBS, 2005

Working conditions of native and migrant workers (4-point scale)

Differences in violence and harassment at work

Although the exposure patterns in relation to health and working conditions for native Dutch workers and second generation workers were found to be similar, exposure to violence and harassment in the workplace was higher for second generation workers than for native Dutch workers. However, second generation workers experienced less violence and harassment in the workplace than first generation workers (Figure 4).

Sexual harassment was more commonly experienced by second generation workers, whereas first generation workers were more exposed to the different forms of violence and harassment at work.

Figure 4: Violence and harassment experienced by native Dutch and migrant workers (%)


Source: NEA/CBS, 2005

Violence and harassment experienced by native and migrant workers (%)


In conclusion, except for violence and harassment, the working conditions and health of second generation migrant workers resemble those of native Dutch workers, despite the fact that they often work in different occupations. Nevertheless, the issue of violence and harassment warrants further attention. These findings may be related to cultural differences that may impede the integration of people – including workers – from different cultural backgrounds.

Wendela Hooftman and Irene Houtman, TNO Work and Employment

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