Project

Mobilisation of temporary migrant workers in Australia: union strategies and new collective responses

Goal: This project examines collective responses which have emerged following the rapid growth in temporary migrant workers in Australia. We will look at union responses, as well as collective responses by temporary migrant workers that have evolved outside of traditional union structured.

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Elsa Underhill
added a research item
The exploitation of temporary migrant workers (TMWs) employed in Australia has been well documented by academics, government enquiries, and the Fair Work Ombudsman [FWO], the Federal government agency responsible for enforcing wage compliance. This article examines the ways in which temporary migrant workers access information about their employment rights, and how that access can be enhanced by utilising the social media platforms commonly used by temporary migrants, and tailoring the information to the needs of these workers. The analysis draws upon a national survey of temporary migrant workers, and focus groups of young Korean and Taiwanese workers.
Elsa Underhill
added 2 research items
This article builds on the growing literature on migrant worker mobilisation by analysing how the temporary migrant workforce, employed in food production, interacts with two Australian trade unions alongside ethno-specific social media groups, offshore unions and community/religious organisations. The contribution of this article is twofold. Firstly, we demonstrate divergence in union strategies, distinguishing between (i) a ‘traditional self-reliant’ strategy, where unions recruit temporary migrant workforces by using established methods and their own resources and (ii) network collectivism, where unions also engage with temporary migrant workforces obliquely through external social media platforms and alliances. Our second contribution is to examine how the components of network collectivism interact as an integrated strategy for temporary migrant worker mobilisation.
Elsa Underhill
added a research item
Australian horticulture (fruit and vegetable production) relies upon a seasonal harvest workforce, much of which now consists of temporary migrant workers. This article argues that the composition of this workforce and the character of the work lead towards layered vulnerability, some groups being more exposed to low pay and substandard working conditions than others. Formally at least, employment conditions are generally protected by the federal Horticulture Award (2010). But are decent employment standards consistently observed? The article explores this question, examining three issues. First, does analysis of workforce composition reveal different tiers in the workforce, some more vulnerable than others? Second, do the casual nature of harvest work and the job search processes used by temporary migrant workers create disadvantaged groups? Third, does evidence about pay, working hours and work intensity reveal some workers to be more vulnerable than others? The article concludes with an examination of those factors that appear to be associated with layered vulnerability in the harvest workforce, and considers some policy implications.
Elsa Underhill
added 2 research items
Over recent decades, developments in network governance have seen governments around the world cede considerable authority and responsibility to commercial migration intermediaries for recruiting and managing temporary migrant labour. Correspondingly, a by-product of network governance has been the emergence of soft employment regulation in which voluntary codes of conduct supplement hard (enforceable) legal employment standards. This paper explores these developments in the context of temporary migrant workers employed in Australian horticulture. First the paper analyses the growing use of temporary migrant labour in this industry. It then describes how different types of intermediaries interact with this workforce. The paper then outlines both hard and soft employment regulations, and contrasts them with actual employment conditions, questioning how a network governance approach has affected this vulnerable workforce. The paper concludes that changes in network governance of migration and employment relations have emasculated formal legal regulation, leaving market forces to operate without effective or ethical constraints at the expense of the public good.
Horticulture work in many high-income economies is increasingly performed by temporary migrant workers from low-wage economies. In Australia, such work is now performed predominantly by international backpackers - young well-educated workers with mostly sound English language skills. These workers are drawn to harvesting work by a government scheme that provides an incentive for completing a specified number of days work in horticulture. This paper examines the health and safety experience of these workers, through focus groups, interviews and an online survey. Notwithstanding their distinctive backgrounds, the harvesting experience of these temporary migrant workers is similar to that of low-skilled migrants working in other high-income countries. Health and safety risks associated with work organisation and payment systems, and a lack of compliance with occupational safety and health legal requirements, are commonplace, but potentially compounded by a sense of invincibility among these young travellers. Furthermore, a growing pool of undocumented workers is placing downward pressures on their employment conditions. The vulnerability associated with work and earnings uncertainty, and the harsh environment in which harvesting work occurs, remains a constant, notwithstanding the background of these workers.
Elsa Underhill
added a project goal
This project examines collective responses which have emerged following the rapid growth in temporary migrant workers in Australia. We will look at union responses, as well as collective responses by temporary migrant workers that have evolved outside of traditional union structured.