The role of migration networks in the recruitment process for posted employment
If some companies turn to agents in order to recruit workers, others resort to migration networks of employees. In the construction industry, characterised by short-term employment opportunities, this type of recruitment was particularly common amongst my informants. Some companies use networks of construction engineers who manage projects carried out abroad. In the following quote, Mihai describes how, taking into account workers’ skills and abilities, engineers contact either people with whom they had previously worked or people recommended to them. He also claims that engineers are, in some instances, mediators between companies and future employees. Thus, they set the starting wages, whilst workers further negotiate with employers based on their skills and experience:
The employer allows every engineer to choose his people: ‘I have worked there with someone who is good at balconies, someone else knows the stairs, another one is good at the masonry.’ All engineers have a sort of agenda, and the employer says: ‘... gather your team, I have a job for you.’ Then, the engineer negotiates: ‘What is my salary, €2500-3000.’ That’s what it’s like on the construction site. And then he [the engineer] grabs his phone [and contacts the workers]. (Mihai, construction worker)
lulian, a construction engineer who worked for several years with Romanian subcontractors in Austria and Germany, explained that, by hiring known or recommended workers, employers are confident that future employees will be skilful and committed:
People continue to be recruited through acquaintances, not through recruitment firms. ... I heard that, ‘I know him, I’ve worked with him, he’s a serious man, he has a team, he knows this, he knows that.’ (lulian, construction engineer)
For posted workers, being hired through migration networks may bring security in an uncertain labour market. However, it may be bounded to constraints. Mihai describes the context in which Romanian construction companies post workers in Germany as a ‘closed circle’—that is, with employers who have the advantage of being able to check the history and reputation of potential employees. Beyond information about their skills, they might be interested in finding out whether workers are obedient or unionised or not. Mihai explains:
‘Have you been to Germany before?” ‘Yes, I worked there for eight months.’ ‘Where did you work, with what engineer?’ And this circle is a closed circle. They know each other. ... And I, if I was there [in Germany] before, [what they might say is,] ‘I’m going to ask the engineer: “Does he have a long history in Germany, doesn't he know things too well, isn’t he affiliated with trade unions, doesn’t he know too much?”’ (Mihai, construction worker)
In other instances, companies recruit the acquaintances of employees who are already in the destination country. This is how Andrei found some of his posted jobs. During my fieldwork, I observed Andrei receiving calls from Romania enquiring about employment opportunities in Germany. For Gigi, who has been working in Germany for many years, acquaintances are just as important. Over time, he has developed social connections that he relies on every time he seeks a job abroad. The relationships between him and his colleagues rely on reciprocity. Here, he explains how the company that was going to post him abroad asked him to serve as an intermediary, at very short notice, so that two other workers would join the same project:
So I was at this company. I went, I registered, and Mr [name] said : ‘... [Gigi], I need two more boys.’ And I took these boys, Cristian and George. We went to the firm on Thursday, we talked and on Friday we were on the bus [to Germany], (Gigi, construction worker)
The case of Alin is also interesting. After being posted for several years in the German and French meat-processing sector, he received a standard job as a team leader in France. He was then able to start a team consisting of former Romanian colleagues in a meat-processing factory in Germany (one more example showing how roles within reciuitment infrastructures might change). As time passes, workers enlarge their migration networks. In the meat-processing industry, this serves as one of the factors that increase workers’ possibilities of finding a standard job abroad, as illustrated by Lari’s case. He previously worked in a meatprocessing factory in Romania and held two posted jobs in that sector in Germany. After 2014, when Romanians obtained free access to the German labour market, through former colleagues, he found standard employment in the German meatprocessing industry. He explains how networks are used by workers within the same economic sector:
In our branch, we let each other know. Now, for example, I know people all over Germany and we keep in touch: ‘... Look, a new work station will open somewhere. Are you interested? These are the conditions.’ (Lari, meatprocessing industry worker)
A slightly different situation existed for most of the construction workers I interviewed. Although many had connections in the field, they were unable to find regular jobs in the destination country. This might be a consequence of the highly flexible labour market in that sector; however, further systematic research is needed here.
Given the high turnover rates and the insecurity related to short-term postings, both companies and agents strategically rely on employees’ social networks for a constant supply of cheap labour. Important for job seekers as well since they might provide (better) employment arrangements, these connections also reproduce power dynamics possibly leading to worker exploitation (Turaeva 2016).