Unfree labour in immigration detention: exploitation and coercion of a captive immigrant workforce

Katie Bales, Lucy Mayblin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)
583 Downloads (Pure)


The vast majority of asylum seekers and irregular migrants in Britain are forbidden from working, however there is one exception to this ban: detainees are permitted to work in immigration detention centres. Here, they are excluded from minimum wage laws and are paid between £1 and £1.25 per hour to undertake tasks integral to the running of the centres. Drawing on documentary evidence this article advances two key arguments. First, that the available data on paid activities indicates that detainees should legally be considered employees and granted access to labour protections, including the national minimum wage. Second, that work in immigration detention is an example of state sanctioned exploitative, coercive, and unfree labour amongst a hyper-precarious group of the population. Drawing together a framework for analysis from literatures on hyper-precarity, labour exploitation, and political economy, this case has implications for other country contexts where immigration detention is used.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)191-213
Number of pages23
JournalEconomy and Society
Issue number2
Early online date4 Jul 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Structured keywords

  • Centre for Law at Work
  • Migration Mobilities Bristol


  • asylum
  • detention
  • forced labour
  • unfreedom
  • hyperprecarity


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