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Home / Resources / News / INVISIBLE CITIZENS IN A 24 HOUR CITY


In the second part of our interview on night workers, we ask Iulius Cezar Macarie on why they are ignored as a group of workers.The media is invisible on this subject. These aren’t topics that it wants to tackle. I took a journalist from the Economist once to see Romanian night workers. The journalist just told the worker that the British government should be concerned that his compatriots are coming over to the UK.

You have over three million Romanians who have left their country in the last three years. The Romanian government is worried that they won’t have any more young people left. The night time economy isn’t valued as much in places like London.

The Migrant Observatory reported that 14.4% of the working population in the UK – over six million people – are migrants living in London.

It’s a demographic that you cannot ignore, but I think it really is ignored. It needs to be explored further which is one of the reasons why, with the Night Laboratory, we’re trying to look at these aspects.

Think about it, London is a 24 hour city. For the executives to enjoy the high life, you need people to open their coffee shops and do the laundry. The city is running throughout the night so it needs to be maintained throughout the night. Who’s going to do this? It has to be night workers. You ask about the psychological support. It depends who you speak to. If you talk to young migrants, they won’t be concerned about family support, because their family isn’t in the UK. They come here alone. I spoke to a manager whose father had come to the UK from Nigeria in the first few waves of migration. He said “Look, night work suits me. It suits me because I finish my shift, go home, pick up my kids, take them to school, spend some time with my wife, have some sleep and then collect my kids from school. It’s quite difficult, as you have to work four nights a week and once you have a little break, it’s really difficult to come back to work the next Monday.” It has also become a medical issue.

Research by the British Medical Association shows that the risk of stroke is 5% higher amongst night workers because they’re up all the time. Night workers don’t get health care, they don’t have time to go to checkups and it costs money. This is where night workers could be given additional benefits.

How do they cope in managing these effects to keep motivated, to keep concentrated and just to keep sane?

Night work is not a natural phenomenon. I’ve done night work and I’ll be doing night work for my research. It has impacted on me in the sense that I couldn’t recover as I was up day and night. It messed up my system. I met someone who did night work for a year. As soon as he gained the right to work legally in this country, he moved to daytime work because he said

“Look, I just couldn’t cope anymore. You have a completely different way of life. It’s mismatched, because when you start work, that’s when most people finish work. When you finish work, that’s when they start, so you can’t get to socialise with them”.

In fact, night workers are willing to make a sacrifice to socialise. There’s a night nurse who said “If you want to accomplish something, you’ve got to sacrifice something”. For her what was really important is she would sacrifice a couple of hours every day after her night shift to speak to her friends.

She said “If I don’t look after me friends, they won’t look after me. My goal is to keep in touch with my friends. So when I come home from a night shift, I’m not going straight to be as I really need to. I pick up the phone to speak to my friends”. That’s one way for her to keep in touch with her community. How many people do you know who would come home and say I’m not going to do anything, I’m just going to spend some time calling my friends. Most people don’t even need to sacrifice as after work, they can meet their friends down the pub.

How does the situation that night workers face affect their attitudes on political and social issues?

There’s a correlation between the fact that migrant night workers are forced to do this kind of work and their attitudes on the culture they’re part of. I sense that migrants resent the fact that they’re forced to end up doing night work, which is not valued but serves some purpose. Night work is somehow an unseen sector. People told me that British workers don’t like to do this work because it’s hard. Obviously, this impacts on their attitudes because migrants feel discriminated.

They ask “Why should I have to do this work when I’m a European citizen?” They don’t have the possibility of socialising nor integrating in their local community. They’re kind of invisible.

Please follow the updates on the up-coming short documentary by film maker Tim Marrinan and me called ‘Invisible Lives: Romanian Night Workers in London’ due to be screened at the Romanian Cultural Centre in London on the 20th June, 2013. Iulius-Cezar Macarie grew up in Romania and collaborates with Nightlaboratory. From September 2013, he will be an ‘INTEGRIM’ Early-Stage Researcher at the Center for Policy Studies, and in parallel a PhD student in Sociology and Social Anthropology, at the Central European University, Budapest. His research interest lies in the field of nightwork and how that impacts on the lives of migrants in London.

Nightlaboratory reports on people who work, make a living, survive or operate in one way or another in the nocturnal city, because they have no other option or because they want to benefit from the darkness, quiet and lack of control and surveillance which the night offers. Instead of night revellers, who are familiar characters in the public imagination, the Laboratory will look in particular at those invisible and unseen individuals who spend their nights at work or on the street.