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Faculty Advanced Institute for Research (FAIR)

Last updated: 29/08/14

Professor Sonia McKay


Professor of European Socio-Legal Studies


  • LL.B (Queens University, Belfast)
  • Ph.D (Wolfson College, Cambridge)


Sonia came to the Working Lives Research Institute from the Labour Research Department (LRD), the independent trade union-based research organisation, where she held the post of employment law researcher from 1983 until 2004. At LRD, she undertook a large number of commissioned research projects mainly for trade union organisations. Between 1993 and 1994, during a period of sabbatical leave from LRD, she worked with the late Professor Brian Bercusson at the European Institute in Florence, on a project examining the implications of the Maastrict Treaty on collective bargaining. In 2002 and 2003 she also taught part-time at London Metropolitan University, teaching Industrial Relations Law to undergraduates in the Business School as well as teaching a post graduate Labour Law course.

After a law degree at Queens, Belfast Sonia completed a Ph.D at Cambridge with a thesis on disciplinary penalties against strikers. She then worked for Thomas Cook the travel company, where through union activity, was elected as a representative on the union national negotiating body. From 1975 until 1982 she worked for the travel and rail union TSSA, first in its recruitment and organising department, moving to work in the departments responsible for railway staff in the London Midland Region, the docks and hotels sector and finally working in the national negotiations department. Having left TSSA to travel round South East Asia, (during which time she taught a short course on UK employment law at the University of Srinigar) Sonia returned to take up the post at LRD.

Sonia is currently working on an Economic and Social Research Council funded two year research project (UNDOCNET) in a collaboration between the Department of Sociology, Manchester University and the Working Lives Research Institute, London Metropolitan University. The study has been exploring the labour market experiences and aspirations of 55 undocumented migrants from three countries of origin - Bangladesh, China and Turkey (including Kurds) - and 24 minority ethnic entrepreneurs employing people from these three groups.  The research site is London because the majority of undocumented migrants live in London. The context of the research is the economic downturn, increasingly restrictive immigration controls, raids on businesses suspected of employing people without correct documentation and the deportation of illegal entrants, rejected asylum seekers and visa over-stayers. Within this contemporary context the project is concerned with understanding decisions to use or not to use co-ethnic networks in the search for work in or out of ethnic enclaves, from the perspectives of workers and their employers. Sonia is also part of a consortium of eight universities in Europe who have been running an annual summer school in Bologna on Global health and migration. The school brings together 30 students from social sciences and medical faculties.

A new book, Statutory Regulation and employment relations, written with Professor Sian Moore, University of the West of England, is published by Palgrave MacMillan in June 2013. Sonia's previous research projects include a Study on Precarious Work and Social Rights (2011-12) and on Trade union practices on anti-discrimination and diversity (2010-11), both for the European Commission. In 2009 she was appointed as one of three peer reviewers on to the government enquiry on Fatalities in the Construction Industry.

Research interests

Sonia's research interests include the impact of institutional racism on the workplace, migrant workers, industrial action and the law, trade union recognition and de-recognition, the role of the judiciary in industrial disputes, collective issues in employment law, professional and managerial staff and equal opportunities in a work environment.

Sonia has carried out a number of research projects for the TUC, including its annual Trade Union Trends reports (on new union recognition deals, employment tribunals, industrial action and industrial action ballots and legal action against unions). In the last few years she has carried out commissioned research for the public services' union UNISON on institutional racism, with surveys of employers in the public sector, trade union branches, union activists and UNISON black members and for both UNISON and the PCS on the impact of the economic crisis on union members.


Contact details



Dr Sonia McKay
Professor of European Socio-Legal Studies
Working Lives Research Institute
London Metropolitan University
166-220 Holloway Road
London N7 8DB
Tel: 00 44 (0)2071332912


Dr Sonia McKay

Professor of European Socio-Legal Studies

Working Lives Research Institute
London Metropolitan University
166-220 Holloway Road
London N7 8DB

Tel: 00 44 (0)20 7133 2912



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Book Chapters

Journal articles




Other publications



Invited & other academic conference papers

  • 2004. Nailing blancmange to the ceiling?' The conclusion and content of collective bargaining agreements emerging from statutory trade union recognition, BUIRA conference July 2004. with Dr Sian Moore and Hannah Wood
  • 2004. How effective are labour codes, European University of Work, Nantes August 2004
  • 2001. Atypical work, New Developments in the Labour Law of the European Union, Academy of European Law, Trier.
  • 2001. The implementation of the Fixed-term contracts directive in the UK, Academy of European Law, Trier.
  • 2001. Collective Bargaining and Institutional Racism, University of North London.
  • 2001. Invited discussant in session on 'The Nature and Function of Fundamental Social Rights' at a conference on Fundamental Social Rights, University of Cambridge.
  • 2000. Activism at work: gender bargaining agendas' Women, Work and Trade Unions Seminar Series 1999/2000, Women, diversity and democracy in trade unions.
  • 2000. Trade union recognition in Britain - the dawn of a new era? Paper presented to British Universities Industrial Relations Association Conference, Warwick.
  • 1999. Employer opposition and response to union recognition, paper presented to British Universities Industrial Relations Association Conference, Leicester.
  • 1999. Race discrimination and the law, TUC Black Workers' Conference, London.
  • 1999. Future prospects for managerial and professional workers, Communications International/FIET European Conference, Luxembourg.
  • 1998. Developments in trade union recognition and derecognition in Britain,  paper presented to British Universities Industrial Relations Association Conference, Keele.
  • 1998. Women and employment in the UK, Freidrich Ebert Stiftung Conference, Bonn.
  • 1997. Unofficial strikes in Britain, paper presented to British Universities Industrial Relations Association Conference, Bath (with G. Gall).
  • 1997. Professional and managerial staff in the labour force, FIET world conference for P&MS staff, Geneva.
  • 1993. Derecognition revisited - developments since 1988,  presented to the 11th Annual International Labour Process Conference, Blackpool (with G. Gall).

Professional activities


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