Getting to work - how willing is our labour force?
'There are currently just less than half a billion people living and working away from their country of origin'
Dominic Lunt | 8 February 2016

According to the ONS (Office for National Statistics), Britons have an average distance of around 14 km to travel to work. This may seem like a relatively small distance, however it is larger than figures in the past, when many were walking-distance away or, at most, commuting to the next town. As time has gone by, the average worker in an MEDC has had a greater distance to travel, as new opportunities with higher incomes are available elsewhere.


In the modern day, commuting distance has reached a new level, due to the growth and spread of globalisation. Globalisation is the process of increasing interdependence and interconnectivity between different political, social and economic components of the world. The development has led to an increase in workforce mobility, with workers willing to travel much further distances, to other regions and countries, in order to find the best available jobs. This labour migration is strongly affected by the different wages available for jobs in different countries.


So, for example, a lawyer in China will earn an average $146,000 a year, whilst in Mexico someone of the same skillset will earn less than $18,000. It is obvious, therefore, that lawyers will flock to countries such as China, where their earning potential is so much higher. However, the majority of people migrating for work are those who are the lowest paid. In the UK, for example, there are cleaners and builders who have migrated from Eastern Europe. Although, by our standards, they earn a small salary, their income is nonetheless higher than it would be in their home country.


There are currently just less than half a billion people living and working away from their country of origin, and although for some it is an optional move, for the vast majority it is the result of an unplanned circumstance. An example of this forced migration is across Asia, which has the highest migration rate of any continent due to its large population. Countries such as Pakistan, India and Bangladesh have lost tens of millions of their labour force to other countries where they are able to achieve a greater standard of living. A more specific example is the UAE where 85% of the population of 10 million originates from the Indian subcontinent. This is a huge figure, especially when compared with the 5.5 million British people working outside Britain, over the whole of the world (nearly half of which are in the EU). What I believe to be illustrated here are two very different societies. In Britain, people are far less willing to go the distance for work, not only because there are more opportunities close to home, such as in the EU, but because there is no overriding drive to earn without the pressing issue of poverty. In countries such as Pakistan, the majority of those emigrating do so because they know that sending money home is the only way to be able to provide for their family, even if it means they will not not see them. However, in doing so, they are simultaneously weakening the workforce of their own country.

Whilst labour migration is not the perfect solution, it is imperative that it continues in order for globalisation and trade to increase. However, once a stage is reached where a diminishing workforce is detrimental to the domestic economy, migration has more than likely gone a step too far.



Image sourced under Creative Commons license

James Routledge 2016