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Work and Equalities Institute receives major grant towards comparison of global cities

A major four-year project looking at labour markets in different cities across the world has been secured by the Work and Equalities Institute. It will be headed up by Dr Mathew Johnson who has been awarded a UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship to evaluate different ways of promoting decent working conditions through city institutions and networks.

The project will compare six cities - Manchester, Bremen, Montreal, New York, Seoul and Buenos Aires – and explore how the type and quality of jobs on offer have direct and indirect effects on wider issues of inequality and social justice.

Dr Johnson, a Lecturer in Human Resource Management and Employment Studies at Alliance MBS, said: “It is important to understand how the broad concept of decent work is evolving in a global sense, while also drawing attention to what is happening at the city level. This is because although cities are often seen as the main beneficiaries of global flows of labour and capital, gaps are emerging between different cities in terms of economic outcomes and social cohesion, and around key issues such as quality of life, inequality, and democratic accountability.”

At a time of continued volatility and uncertainty in the global economy, not least because of the ongoing coronavirus crisis, the project will both recognise and highlight good practice in respect of improving the quality of work, while also exploring the conditions under which a decent work agenda can be developed and sustained.

By combining high quality academic research outputs with ongoing impact and knowledge exchange activities, it will provide both theoretical and practical answers to pressing global concerns around low pay, inequality and insecurity.

The project has three main aims:

  • To map the underlying structure and ‘health’ of the labour market at the city level in order to understand how cities vary in respect of key indicators such as job creation, skill development, working conditions, equality of opportunity for different groups, and mechanisms of workplace participation.
  • To evaluate local initiatives to improve working conditions, and explore how networks of different stakeholders contribute to the process of designing, implementing and monitoring the ‘decent work’ agenda at a local, national and international level.
  • To benchmark and share good practice by establishing a ‘community of practice’ around policymakers, employers, labour and grassroots community groups that will share and discuss key research findings and contribute to the development of the decent work index and toolkit.


Dr Johnson said that the project would analyse how different actors within cities respond to pressing challenges of poverty, inequality, and labour market exclusion. “It will also explore the ways in which cities could become more networked and collaborative in terms of sharing knowledge and good practice.”

He added that impact was a key element of the Fellowship and by involving a wide range of stakeholders in the design, delivery and dissemination of the research the project hoped to contribute to the public debate around the future of work in urban areas, and create a positive legacy around ‘what works’.

“The Fellowship represents an excellent opportunity for me to build on my existing research activities and contacts, and to establish a distinct and innovative international research agenda encompassing the global north and south, that has a direct impact on policy and practice.

“Undertaking a large scale mixed-methods research project across a diverse range of cities will help me to develop my position as a research leader and will provide important insights into the changing global context of work and employment. The project will be particularly important for those with an interest in the varied ways in which policymakers, employers, trade unions, and workers make sense of the key challenges in the labour market such as low pay, insecurity and a lack of voice.”

The Future Leaders Fellowship scheme was launched in 2018 and is open to researchers from across business, universities, and other organisations who can access a grant to help them tackle ambitious and challenging research and innovation. Funding can be available for up to seven years, allowing long-term focus on a particular research or innovation problem.