Article

The art of not being caught: Temporal strategies for disciplining unfree labour in Singapore’s contract migration

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Abstract

Adopting a case study approach, this paper examines unfree labour amongst labour migrants from a temporal perspective. I draw on the notion of temporality specifically to refer to the spontaneous and arbitrary imposition of strategies by employers as a response to situations in which workers attempt to bargain to ameliorate exploitation in the workplace or in response to workplace injuries. Although there is a significant literature discussing employer tactics to control and discipline workers, very little of this specifically addresses migrant workers or proceeds through a thick description of individual company strategies. I suggest that strategies to discipline migrant workers are often embedded in the broader migration regimes and state laws that underwrite migrant workers’ positions, and should be attributed equal weight in understanding how unfree labour is produced and maintained in practice. The case studies are taken from experiences of South Asian male migrant workers in four different small-medium enterprises (SMEs) that are subcontracting companies (sub-cons) in the construction and shipyard sectors in Singapore, and one man who suffered serious injury as a result of his work. Through these five case studies I hope to develop a characterization of migrant worker unfreedom that goes beyond descriptions of broad structural factors that discipline migrant workers, or characterisations of migrant worker conditions, to an examination of the micro-dynamics of workplace discipline. In this understanding I extend current conceptualisations of unfree labour by arguing that unfreedom must, in part, be understood as the inability to contest exploitation, including the strategies companies impose on workers at specific times to enable this.

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... In exploring these debts and their consequences this work draws attention to the intersection of migration, debt, and space, building on a rich literature highlighting the spatial consequences of debt among migrant workers. Indebtedness has been identified as causing migrants to move into exploitive work (Yea, 2016), inhibiting return in times of crisis (Bylander, 2017;Rajan and Naryana, 2012); making it more difficult for migrants to leave exploitive or poor working situations (Yea, 2016), incentivizing re-migration after deportation (Rus and Rus, 2014;Schuster and Majidi 2013), increasing the likelihood of forced labor (UNIAP, 2011), and causing migrants to run away from employment contracts, leading them to lose legal status within their host country (Lindquist, 2010). However this while this scholarship centers the spatial consequences of debt, it less frequently interrogates the spatial nature of debts itself; how debts are constituted through and within space. ...
... In exploring these debts and their consequences this work draws attention to the intersection of migration, debt, and space, building on a rich literature highlighting the spatial consequences of debt among migrant workers. Indebtedness has been identified as causing migrants to move into exploitive work (Yea, 2016), inhibiting return in times of crisis (Bylander, 2017;Rajan and Naryana, 2012); making it more difficult for migrants to leave exploitive or poor working situations (Yea, 2016), incentivizing re-migration after deportation (Rus and Rus, 2014;Schuster and Majidi 2013), increasing the likelihood of forced labor (UNIAP, 2011), and causing migrants to run away from employment contracts, leading them to lose legal status within their host country (Lindquist, 2010). However this while this scholarship centers the spatial consequences of debt, it less frequently interrogates the spatial nature of debts itself; how debts are constituted through and within space. ...
... The past decade has seen growing interest in the relationships between debt and migration, with scholars pointing to a range of ways that debt finances, compels, and shapes migration. Broadly speaking this literature can be organized into three overlapping thematic areas: scholarship pointing to the growth of distress migration related to overindebtedness (Bylander, 2014(Bylander, , 2015Heidbrink, 2019;Johnson and Woodhouse, 2018;Stoll, 2013); examinations and critiques of the growing use of debt to finance migration (Goh et al., 2016;Hoang and Yeoh, 2015;Lindquist, 2010;Moniruzzaman and Walton-Roberts, 2018;O'Connell Davidson, 2013;Platt et al., 2016;Rahman, 2015;Sobieszczyk, 2002); and the consequences of debt on migrant experiences (Baey and Yeoh, 2015;Goh et al., 2016;Yea, 2016). The latter concern is often discussed as it relates to one or both of the former trends, to point to the various ways by debt can produce, enhance, and extend vulnerability among migrant workers. ...
Article
An established body of research now documents the ways that debt both motivates and shapes migration processes. Yet little scholarship examines the debts migrants incur after arriving in their destinations. Drawing on qualitative interviews with Cambodians living and working in Thailand, this paper explores debts imposed upon and taken by migrants after they have arrived in their destination. In Thailand, migrants take on debts in an attempt to obtain documents, to move into better paying jobs, and to start entrepreneurial projects. Often, these loans are translocal; taken by proxy borrowers in Cambodia, and sent across the border in what might be described as a ‘reverse remittance’ financed by debt. By exploring these debts and their consequences, this work elaborates the spatial nature of debt and draws attention to its capacity to engender spatially diffuse vulnerabilities.
... COVID-19 outbreaks in spaces housing migrant workers are compounded by the erasure of worker voices from discursive registers in ways that matter (Dutta, 2020a(Dutta, , 2021. For instance, in Singapore, an authoritarian state organized as a destination of neoliberal capital and a "model" of extreme neoliberalism, low-wage migrant workers are not allowed to unionize, depend on their employers for their work passes, face ongoing threats of deportation and/or incarceration if they speak up and are not guaranteed access to health care because of their immigration status (Dutta, 2017a(Dutta, , 2017b(Dutta, , 2020c(Dutta, , 2021Yea, 2017;Yea and Chok, 2018). Moreover, the absence of the human right to health among low-wage migrant workers is reflected in the poor working conditions, experiences of food insecurity and poor conditions of living (Dutta, 2017(Dutta, , 2020a(Dutta, , 2020b(Dutta, , 2020cYea, 2017;Yea and Chok, 2018). ...
... For instance, in Singapore, an authoritarian state organized as a destination of neoliberal capital and a "model" of extreme neoliberalism, low-wage migrant workers are not allowed to unionize, depend on their employers for their work passes, face ongoing threats of deportation and/or incarceration if they speak up and are not guaranteed access to health care because of their immigration status (Dutta, 2017a(Dutta, , 2017b(Dutta, , 2020c(Dutta, , 2021Yea, 2017;Yea and Chok, 2018). Moreover, the absence of the human right to health among low-wage migrant workers is reflected in the poor working conditions, experiences of food insecurity and poor conditions of living (Dutta, 2017(Dutta, , 2020a(Dutta, , 2020b(Dutta, , 2020cYea, 2017;Yea and Chok, 2018). This combination of exploitation and repression of migrant workers forms the backdrop on which COVID-19-related outbreak inequalities play out (Kaur-Gill, 2020). ...
... Low-wage migrant workers negotiate their health amidst processes of capitalist extraction that are legitimized through neoliberal narratives of upward mobility (Dutta, 2017a(Dutta, , 2017b. Often working in "dirty, dangerous and difficult" jobs, supported on short-term work permits the power over which are held by employers, without labor protections and the pathways of mobility into citizenship, low-wage migrant workers negotiate their health and well-being amidst hyper-precarity (Baey and Yeoh, 2015;Bal, 2015;Dutta, 2017aDutta, , 2017bYea, 2017;Yea and Chok, 2018). The lack of labor rights of lowwage contract-based migrant workers in Singapore constitutes the precarious nature of the work, with "limited social benefits and statutory entitlements, job insecurity, low wages and high risks of ill health" (Vosko, 2006, p. 4). ...
Article
Purpose The purpose of this manuscript is to examine the negotiations of health among low-wage migrant workers in Singapore amidst the COVID-19 outbreaks in dormitories housing them. In doing so, the manuscript attends to the ways in which human rights are constituted amidst labor and communicative rights, constituting the backdrop against which the pandemic outbreaks take place and the pandemic response is negotiated. Design/methodology/approach The study is part of a long-term culture-centered ethnography conducted with low-wage migrant workers in Singapore, seeking to build communicative infrastructures for rights-based advocacy and interventions. Findings The findings articulate the ways in which the outbreaks in dormitories housing low-wage migrant workers are constituted amidst structural contexts of organizing migrant work in Singapore. These structural contexts of extreme neoliberalism work catalyze capitalist accumulation through the exploitation of low-wage migrant workers. The poor living conditions that constitute the outbreak are situated in relationship to the absence of labor and communicative rights in Singapore. The absence of communicative rights and dignity to livelihood constitutes the context within which the COVID-19 outbreak emerges and the ways in which it is negotiated among low-wage migrant workers in Singapore. Originality/value This manuscript foregrounds the interplays of labor and communicative rights in the context of the health experiences of low-wage migrant workers amidst the pandemic. Even as COVID-19 has made visible the deeply unequal societies we inhabit, the manuscript suggests the relevance of turning to communicative rights as the basis for addressing these inequalities. It contributes to the extant literature on the culture-centered approach by depicting the ways in which a pandemic as a health crisis exacerbates the challenges to health and well-being among precarious workers.
... Singapore's "smart" governance assembles a collection of laws, surveillance technologies, controls over institutions and civil society, and police interventions aimed at repression while simultaneously "rolling back" the welfare-based role of the state. At the heart of the "smart city" infrastructure of Singapore is the exploited labor of low-wage migrant workers, accompanied by the strategic deployment of a range of tactics of violence to erase migrant worker voices and invisibilize migrant worker bodies (see for instance Kaur et al., 2016;Yea, 2017). ...
... Migrating from Bangladesh, India, Thailand, Malaysia, and China, low-wage migrant workers labor in precarious positions in Singapore, building the infrastructures of Singapore's neoliberal economy. Toiling in transient conditions without access to pathways of citizenship, without labor rights, and without the access to communication infrastructures for voicing the challenges to their health and well-being, low-wage migrant workers live in a climate of fear, amidst systemic threats to their employment, health, and well-being (Dutta, 2017a,b;Yea, 2017;Yea and Chok, 2018). The everyday struggles for migrant health in Singapore are constituted amidst a climate of authoritarian state management that produces worker precarity to facilitate capitalist extraction. ...
... Building on a growing line of existing research that connects health to the precarity of work in global processes of labor flow (Dutta and Jamil, 2013;Kaur et al., 2016;Dutta, 2017a,b;Yea, 2017), the CCA suggests that the structural contexts of immigrant health are rooted in the erasure of migrant voices. Voices of low-wage migrants at the margins of neoliberal economies foregrounds meanings amid these structures, suggesting strategies for health communication that responds to these overarching structures of health and migration. ...
Article
Full-text available
Drawing upon an ongoing ethnography with low-wage migrant workers in Singapore, this article builds on the theoretical framework of the culture-centered approach (CCA) to explore the experiences of the workers amid COVID-19 outbreaks in dormitories housing them. The CCA foregrounds the interplays of communicative and material inequalities, suggesting that the erasure of infrastructures of voices among the margins reproduces and circulates unhealthy structures that threaten the health and well-being of the working classes. The voices of the low-wage migrant workers who participated in this study document the challenges with poor housing, poor sanitation, and food insecurity that are compounded with the absence of information and voice infrastructures. Amid the everyday threats to health and well-being that are generated by neoliberal reforms across the globe, the hyper-precarious conditions of migrant work rendered visible by the trajectories of COVID-19 call for structurally transformative futures that are anchored in the voices of workers at the margins of neoliberal economies.
... The productivitydriven and efficiency-based nature of the construction industries place tremendous burden on the health of workers [2,3]. Add to this the large number of migrants that work in the construction industries globally, contributing further to the precarious nature of construction work, marked by limited protections and the lack of access to resources (such as health care, insurance etc.) that are otherwise guaranteed to citizens [4,5]. Essential to cotemporary global patterns of migration and construction work are the exploitative conditions of global labour in the construction industries, often taking advantage of flexible labour-related policies that offer little protection to migrants [6,7]. ...
... The narratives shared by the participants note the structural contexts of migrant construction work, situating the stories of workplace risks of injuries amid the broader ecology of migrant construction work. In response to the framework of workplace safety-based health communication interventions that emphasize individual behavior change [5,6], the narratives shared by the participants point toward the ways in which lived experiences with workplace safety are situated amidst the shifting contexts of work, attending to the overarching sociocultural contexts of workplaces as well as spaces of everyday living. Central to the findings of this study is the theorizing of risks of workplace injuries in the realms of spaces of everyday living, connecting workplace injuries to experiences with food, sleep, access to bathroom facilities, and transportation. ...
... Moreover, contexts shape the ways in which workplace errors and injuries are understood and experienced. Structures constitute these contexts, working hand-in-hand with cultural narratives and interpretive frameworks that are anchored in culture [3,5,9,17,19,23,30]. Also worth noting are the linkages between the immediate contexts of workplace risks and the broader contexts of familial debt and economic responsibility to family spatially located in Bangladesh. ...
Article
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Construction workers globally face disproportionate threats to health and wellbeing, constituted by the nature of the work they perform. The workplace fatalities and lost-time injuries experienced by construction workers are significantly greater than in other forms of work. This paper draws on the culture-centered approach (CCA) to dialogically articulate meanings of workplace risks and injuries, voiced by Bangladeshi migrant construction workers in Singapore. The narratives voiced by the participants suggest an ecological approach to workplace injuries in the construction industries, attending to food insecurity, lack of sleep, transportation, etc. as contextual features of work that shape the risks experienced at work. Moreover, participant voices point to the barriers in communication, lack of understanding, and experiences of incivility as features of work that constitute the ways in which they experience injury risks. The overarching discourses of productivity and efficiency constitute a broader climate of threats to worker safety and health.
... This increased relevance of the phenomenon of immigration and its socioeconomic effects have intensified in recent times the concerns of policy-makers and local populations on the issue of the integration of immigrants in the socioeconomic context of the host countries and specifically in their labour market (Longhi et al. 2010b). In this respect, prior research documents that, in several price-competitive sectors with highly wavering demand, employers, willing to violate immigration and labour regulations, resort to undeclared immigrant workers and their exploitation to minimize labour costs (Maroukis et al. 2011;Theodore et al. 2018;Yea 2017). Indeed, the scarce employment options due to their restricted or absent labour rights, the lack of information about their rights, the limited language skills, the nonrecognition of qualifications and work experiences achieved in other countries, as well as other forms of discrimination may lead immigrants to accept substandard employment within the informal economy or more precarious, insecure and illegal working conditions, especially in sectors characterized by low-skilled jobs, mostly unattractive to nationals (Annisette and Trivedi 2013;Cappelen and Muriaas 2018;Lewis et al. 2015;Strauss and McGrath 2017). ...
... Despite the current social relevance of the above issues, empirical studies, aiming to unveil the effects of immigration and its regulation on labour market practices starting from data at microeconomic level, are relatively scarce (Borjas 2017;Di Porto et al. 2018;Monras et al. 2018;Yea 2017). Hence, to address this research gap, in this paper we aim to assess whether the geographic concentration of non-EU immigrants 1 in the various Italian provinces significantly influences the labour tax avoidance (LTAV) practices adopted by firms located not only in the same provinces, but also in the neighbouring provinces, because of the presence of spatial spillover effects. ...
... Previous studies document the tendency of immigrants to be underemployed in the informal economy of the host countries, using case studies, interviews, surveys, and macroeconomic statistics (Bohn and Owens 2012;Borjas 2017;Cappelen and Muriaas 2018;Pajnik 2016;Theodore et al. 2018;Yea 2017). In this research context, our study is, to our knowledge, the first attempt to provide empirical evidence of the impact of immigration on LTAV, the logical effect of UDW and other labour exploitative practice, by starting from firm-level accounting information to carry out a spatial econometric analysis. ...
Article
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We investigate whether the geographic concentration of non-EU immigrants in the various Italian provinces affects labour tax avoidance (LTAV) practices adopted by firms located in the same provinces, as well as in the neighbouring provinces, and operating in construction and agriculture industries that mostly employ immigrants in Italy. For this purpose, we develop a LTAV proxy based on the financial accounting information of a sample of 993,606 firm-years, disseminated throughout the 108 Italian provinces, over the period 2008–2016. Our results, based on a Spatial Durbin Model panel regression, reveal a statistically significant positive association between the concentration of non-EU immigrants and LTAV at province level, as well as the presence of spillover effects among neighbouring provinces. Our findings are robust to several additional analyses, including instrumental variable estimations. Our study provides empirical support to previous structuralist or marginalization theories holding that socioeconomically marginalized groups, such as non-EU immigrants, are more likely to be involved in labour exploitation practices, which could underlie our LTAV outcomes. Furthermore, it supports the need for tax authorities to strengthen labour inspections, coordinated at national level, especially in those contexts where non-EU immigrants are mostly employed. On the other hand, a greater social integration, assistance, and recognition of rights of immigrants may help to alleviate their situation of weakness that makes them more vulnerable to LTAV practices. Finally, tackling LTAV, associated with the underemployment of immigrants, may prevent its negative effects for society arising from the reduction of public resources to sustain the social welfare and finance public goods and services.
... The everyday exploitation of low-wage migrant workers in capitalist systems is legitimised through neoliberal narratives of upward mobility, and this forms the context within which migrant health is negotiated (Dutta, 2017a(Dutta, , 2017b(Dutta, , 2020a(Dutta, , 2020b(Dutta, , 2020c. The nature of migrant work is 'dirty, dangerous and difficult', without labour protections and protections of citizenship (Dutta, 2017a(Dutta, , 2017bYea, 2017;Yea & Chok, 2018). The precarity of migrant work, therefore, is deeply intertwined with the structural limits of citizenship. ...
... The struggles for migrant health are constituted amidst the lack of labour protections and the absence of pathways of mobility into citizenship. These hyper-precarious conditions that define migrant work are constituted amidst the interplay of capitalist forces of exploitation and authoritarian state structures (Baey & Yeoh, 2015;Bal, 2015;Dutta, 2017aDutta, , 2017bYea, 2017;Yea & Chok, 2018). The hyper-precarity of migrant work is marked by the lack of labour rights, with 'limited social benefits and statutory entitlements, job insecurity, low wages, and high risks of ill health' (Vosko 2006, p. 4). ...
... These debts manifest in forms of bondage that hold low-wage migrant workers to the job, in spite of the poor work conditions. The condition of 'unfreedom' in low-wage migrant work in Singapore (Yea, 2017;Yea & Chok, 2018) is similar to the conditions of unprotected work evident in the construction and similar dirty industries in India. Low-wage migrant workers negotiate the vast power inequalities at worksites, in interplay with the structures of majoritarianism, caste oppression and stigma (Dutta & Kaur-Gill, 2018). ...
Article
Drawing on a digital ethnography and in-depth interviews conducted with low-wage migrant workers in hyper-precarious working conditions amidst ongoing neoliberal transformations in India and Singapore, this manuscript offers a comparative framework for examining the limits of pandemic communication. Interrogating the ideology of behaviourism that forms the dominant approach, the narratives point to the organizing role of structures as sites of labour exploitation. The exploitative labour conditions constitute the backdrop amidst which the migrant workers negotiate their health and well-being.
... The health of low-wage migrant workers in Singapore is shaped by its extreme neoliberalism, marked by structural inaccessibility to fundamental labor rights and communicative erasures of claims to labor rights. Low-wage migrant workers often work in "dirty, dangerous, and difficult" jobs without labor protections, and they are supported on short-term work permits, the power over which are held by employers (Baey & Yeoh, 2015;Bal, 2015;Dutta, 2017aDutta, , 2017bYea, 2017;Yea & Chok, 2018). Singapore criminalizes migrant worker collectivization, with both incarceration and repatriation serving as key tools of control. ...
... Low-wage migrant work in Singapore is governed by restrictive migration laws that promote temporariness and preclude pathways of mobility into citizenship (Baey & Yeoh, 2015Dutta, 2020aDutta, , 2020bDutta, , 2020cLindquist et al., 2012;Yea, 2017;Yea & Chok, 2018). This temporariness of low-wage migrant work is further rendered vulnerable by complex and interconnected webs of brokerage (Baey & Yeoh, 2015Lindquist et al., 2012). ...
Article
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I draw on the key tenets of the culture-centered approach to co-construct the everyday negotiations of COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) among low-wage male Bangladeshi migrant workers in Singapore. The culture-centered approach foregrounds voices infrastructures at the margins as the basis for theorizing health. Based on 87 hours of participant observations of digital spaces and 47 in-depth interviews, I attend to the exploitative conditions of migrant work that constitute the COVID-19 outbreak in the dormitories housing low-wage migrant workers. These exploitative conditions are intertwined with authoritarian techniques of repression deployed by the state that criminalize worker collectivization and erase worker voices. The principle of academic–worker–activist solidarity offers a register for alternative imaginaries of health that intervene directly in Singapore’s extreme neoliberalism.
... While it can be argued that archival methods and historical approaches have in fact long been central to labour geographers' ways of working (see, for example, Mitchell, 1996;McDowell, 2005McDowell, , 2013Ekers, 2015;Reid-Musson, 2014;Domosh, 2008), Hastings makes an important point about labour process. Although the micro-politics governing the labour process has been highlighted by some scholars in relation to identity formation (Wright, 1997), and labour control (Jonas, 1996;Yea, 2017) these forms of 'soft' power over the labour process itself have not been subject to the same level of scrutiny in labour geography. Yet within some strands of theory on precarious employment, a lack of control over the labour process is a defining facet of precariousness (Vosko, 2004). ...
... Indeed, as Castree (2007) noted nearly a decade ago, the disjunctures between the study of economic livelihoods and agency within 'development studies' and 'labour geography' remain largely underexplored and in great need of engagement. Significant care must thus be taken not to inadvertently reproduce geographical and scholarly elisions by deploying Euro-American notions of what constitutes 'precariousness' -or other conceptual categories such as 'work' or 'welfare'outside the global north while ignoring the longer thread of debates on these very issues in different disciplines (see also Yea, 2017;Breman, 2013;Ferguson, 2013;and Domosh, 2015: 27). ...
... Recently, however, researchers have argued that the geographies of trafficking are no longer so acutely under-researched, pointing both to growing scholarly attention within geography and a broader multi-/inter-disciplinary critical literature on trafficking and anti-trafficking McGrath & Watson, 2018;Yea, 2021). Although it remains a fairly marginal subject in geographyespecially in comparison to other aspects of migration and/or labour market dynamicsthere is certainly increased recognition of trafficking's fundamental spatiality and thus the benefits of geographical perspectives and geospatial/spatiotemporal analyses Laurie & Richardson, 2021;McGrath & Watson, 2018;Yea, 2017Yea, , 2021. As McGrath and Watson (2018) stress, critical engagement from geographers is all the more important now that trafficking is increasingly framed not just as a criminal justice issue but a matter of and for development. ...
... Boyden & Howard, 2013;Esson, 2020;Izcara Palacios & Yamamoto, 2017;McGrath, 2013;Yea, 2012Yea, , 2016. Such work typically draws on in-depth interviews, 2 For a discussion of the conceptual overlaps and distinctions between the related concepts of human trafficking, 'modern slavery', forced labour and unfree labour, see, e.g., O'Connell Davidson (2015), McGrath and Watson (2018) and Yea (2017). ethnographic fieldwork and/or analysis of documentary material: usually open-source material like emblematic anti-trafficking texts (Choi, 2014;McGrath & Watson, 2018;Vandergeest & Marschke, 2020) and media coverage (Vandergeest & Marschke, 2020;Yea, 2020a, pp. ...
Article
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There is relatively little empirical research into the geographies of human trafficking, despite its inherent spatiality and the clear benefits of geographical perspectives. An emerging but vibrant body of qualitative work explores different aspects of trafficking's spatiality and spatio-temporality in depth and nuance, but equivalent quantitative analyses are notably lacking. What exists is largely limited to crude maps and broad-brushed assessments of patterns and trends. Yet, rigorous quantitative work is also vital in advancing understanding, informing responses and increasing accountability. In this paper, we present a novel, empirically-substantiated examination of methodological challenges in mapping trafficking. We draw on analysis of data extracted from the case files of 450 formally identified labour trafficking victims (accessed via the UK's National Crime Agency). We identify and illustrate five characteristics of the data creating particular challenges for geospatial analysis: data integrity (regarding completeness, accuracy and consistency); geographical uncertainty (regarding spatial accuracy and specificity); managing multiple geographies (trafficking is a complex process with various stages, each potentially involving numerous locations); diversity and disaggregation (important geographical variations can be masked in aggregated analysis); and unclear journeys (analysing trafficking routes proved particularly complicated). We also consider possible solutions and explore implications for future research, policy and practice.
... In the aftermath of what became known as Singapore's Little India riot of December 2013 which involved 300 migrant workers, scholars discussed how the area -which is both a historic district showcasing Singapore's Indian ancestral culture and a 'weekend enclave' for low-waged migrant workers from South Asia -became zoned as a space of exception featuring a ban on alcohol sales and increased police surveillance (Hamid, 2015;Yeoh et al., 2017a). Apart from the imposition of extraordinary measures of bodily control at the site of the enclave, mega-dormitories to house migrant workers were also built at peripheral areas as 'spaces of enclosure' in order to constrain the movement of migrant bodies and divert them from more centrally located co-ethnic enclaves (Yea, 2017;Yeoh et al., 2017a). In other words, when it comes to bodily control, the excesses of enclavement are more effectively regulated by strategies of enclosure. ...
Chapter
In the context of the Asia-Pacific, the corporeal geographies of migration are inflected by temporariness. The flexibilization of life and labor has led to low-waged migrants taking on the brunt of socially devalued work, particularly jobs which require demanding physical labor or the intimate care of others’ bodies. By centering corporeal geographies as an analytical lens, this chapter shows how understanding bodies as analytic and scale, destabilizes binary ways of thinking, uncovers power operating at various scales, and foregrounds migrants’ experiences and desires. It reviews poststructuralist, feminist, and critical race approaches to corporeality, as well as conceptual work on emotional geographies and the “mobilities turn”. It then turns to three broad themes to draw out the major contributions that corporeal geographies have made to our understandings of migration.
... While scholars do not embrace a single definition of modern slavery in the context of business, they continue to turn to international organizations and conventions, including the ILO (New, 2015;Simmons & Stringer, 2014;Thomas & Purvis, 2016;Yea, 2017), Anti-Slavery International (Crane, 2013), and the Bellagio-Harvard Guidelines (Gold et al., 2015;Phung, 2018), which have significant similarities in their conceptualizations. Based on our review of the commonalities amongst the conceptualizations of modern slavery in the context of business, including the 'workplace' (Crane, 2013), 'organizational settings' (Phung, 2018), 'global economy' (Bales, 2000;Kara, 2011), and 'supply chain' Gold et al., 2015;New, 2015), we embrace an omnibus definition that embodies the criteria that Crane (2013: 51) sets for 'modern slavery as a management practice' and that we described above: ...
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This chapter offers a review of the current literature that addresses the business side of modern slavery (‘the business of modern slavery’), and identifies avenues for future research on modern slavery within management and organizational studies. We begin by reviewing how scholars define modern slavery as a construct when it is studied in the context of business. We then review the key findings, arguments and contributions of past work related to the business of modern slavery. From there, we discuss avenues for advancing research on the business of modern slavery, first discussing empirical and theoretical approaches to research, then offering suggested avenues for future research that can contribute to our empirical and theoretical understanding of the business of modern slavery, as well as how modern slavery can be situated within and used to contribute to broader business and management theory.
... The focus enables researchers to explore synergies across seemingly differentiated and unrelated empirical settings and will drive forward changes in conceptualisation, which will aid punishment to be considered in new ways. References to 'free' work places as 'jail', workers as 'slaves' (Padmanabhan, 2012: 980), complaints of management not caring for staff and workers being 'treated like robots' (Shildrick et al., 2012: 134) and the control strategies of employers towards unfree migrant workers (Yea, 2017) are prominent within accounts of workplaces, both considered along the spectrum of 'free' and 'unfree' labour. Yet framing these experiences and acts as structural constraints does not articulate the punitive realities of such practice. ...
Article
This paper brings together carceral and labour geographies to highlight new research avenues and empirical gaps. Despite valuable engagements with unfree and precarious work by labour geographers and substantial developments within carceral geography around carceral circuitry and intimate economies of detention, punitive aspects of work remain largely under-theorised within labour geography, while the political economy of carceral labour is relatively side-lined within carceral geography. The paper calls for two interrelated research agendas – the first a punitive labour geographies agenda, and the second a more sustained political economy lens applied to carceral geography in the context of labour and work.
... A study of the structures that create and perpetuate precarity would be incomplete without engaging with the acts of agency that migrants use to navigate structures of exploitation and inequality. There is longstanding body of work on forms of agency that are beyond an industrial setting (see for example Buckley, McPhee, and Rogaly 2017;Seo and Skelton 2017;Yea 2017;Baey and Yeoh 2018). Labour geographers including, Coe andJordhus-Lier (2011), andCarswell andDe Neve (2013) have highlighted the importance of a holistic understanding of worker positionality and agency beyond the workplace. ...
... Most of the interviewed workers were in such short-term contracts for more than 10 or even 20 years. This is a strategy to 'flexibilize' the workers, who are put in a state of 'permanent temporariness' (Collins 2016;Yea 2017). Thus, and in contrast to highly skilled internationals, foreign 'unskilled workers' live permanently at the edge of the Singaporean host society (cf. ...
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This paper explores the mobilities and structural moorings of Thai labour migrants in Singapore from a translocal perspective. We argue that combining the mobilities paradigm with the concept of translocality offers a fruitful avenue of investigation not only of the production of translocal spaces, but also of their temporality and mutability. Through a multi-sited research approach we shed light on the genesis as well as the decay of translocal connections. This paper shows that translocal structures are important moorings of migration, and raises the question of what happens to translocal spaces when migration flows dissolve. +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ eprint link: https://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/XmsdzhEmZUQ6bC2neHBt/full++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ VIDEO ABSTRACT: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zTaW46QKu0w
... There is literature that explicitly 'rhythmanalyses' employment-related spatio-temporalities (Borch, Hansen and Lange, 2015;Jiron, 2010) as well as difference and inequality (Jiron, 2010;Schwanen et al., 2012;Lager, Van Hoven and Huigen, 2015;Spinney, 2010). Indeed, power differentials and temporality go hand-inhand, as time configures economic, political and social relationships (see Edensor and Holloway, 2008), like migrant labour (Axelsson, Malmberg, & Zhang, 2017;Rajkumar et al., 2012;Robertson, 2014;Yea, 2017). These authors show how states, employers, and other actors use time to discipline and organize migrant status and labour. ...
Article
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This article examines rhythmanalysis within the context of Henri Lefebvre’s critique of everyday life and identifies gaps in his framework from the vantage point of intersectional feminist scholarship. Intersectional rhythmanalysis, I argue, provides a framework through which to conceptualize the braiding together of rhythms, social categories of difference, and power on non-essentialist bases. I interweave findings from doctoral research on migrant farmworker rhythms in rural southern Ontario, Canada. The article argues that rhythms help produce unequal subject positions of migrants in Canada, yet also represent lived uses of space and times which permit transgressions of racial, gender, and class boundaries.
... Compulsion is understood as multidimensional, involving various types of violence and controls imposed upon workers that limit their autonomy to choose the buyer of their labor power in the market (McGrath, 2013a(McGrath, : 33, 2013bBernards, 2018). The characteristic of compulsion "destabilizes any notion that 'slavery-like' conditions are exceptional" (Yea, 2017: 2), particularly when politically-assisted market rule and labor deregulation tendencies adopted by many countries were positively associated with forced labor and human trafficking (Peksen et al., 2017: 7). Therefore, conceptualizing unfree labor as an embedded characteristic helps explain why victims of trafficking or slavery remain unfree even after the resolution of rescue missions. ...
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... These questions are ripe areas for exploration in South-South migration research. While this paper offers no ability to answer such questions empirically, I suspect that we overestimate the protective nature of legal status in many Southern contexts (see Yea 2016, Gardner 2010. For instance, at first glance it may seem that the findings of this paper support the assertion that where the poor move, they are likely to end up in "worse" destinations (i.e. ...
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This article examines a central idea in migration theory—that the poorest of the poor are generally less likely to migrate internationally than those with greater resources. Research supporting this claim is largely based on South-North movements, thus raising the question of whether such patterns apply to cross-border movements within the Global South. This paper extends our understanding of migration selection by examining the relationship between poverty, relative wealth, and migration within two South-South corridors: Cambodia-Thailand, where most migration is undocumented; and Cambodia-Malaysia, where movement largely occurs through official recruitment channels.
... 'Coolie' labour arrangements varied from casual labour to formal contracts, but even contracted labourers were prone to exploitation, legal insecurity and violence, not least due to the power inequalities inherent to colonial indenture, and racialised models of labour organisation (Aso 2018;Sturman 2014;Tappe 2016). They appear to be prototypes for Southeast Asian translocal labour Southeast Asian Trajectories of Labour Mobility 5 mobility today, especially in the case of (state or non-state) organised contract labour: the realisation of contracted relations is often similarly subjected to power hierarchies (see, for example, Huong 2010;|Killias 2010|Killias , 2018Yea 2017). In particular, weak legal protection and citizenship rights tend to translate into arbitrary violence, racial discrimination, and sexual harassment. ...
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Within and across Southeast Asian national borders, there has been a growing circulation of labour, capital, people, and goods. Meanwhile, urbanisation, agrarian changes, and liberal economic restructuring have been drawing a large section of the rural population into mobile economies and trade networks. This special issue explores the linkage between mobility and the growing precaritisation of labour resulting from neoliberalised development policies, nationalist citizenship regimes, and discourses, and arbitrary state power. Arguably, the consequent insecurity and uncertainty have profound implications for the social and economic life of migrant labourers. Although these conditions engender dangers and risks, they also hold possibilities for crafting translocal livelihoods and social relations. In this introduction, we investigate the diverse trajectories of labour migration in Southeast Asia through a critical discussion on the concept of ‘precarity’ that underscores the resilience of labour migrants despite the precarious conditions of their lives. The special issue suggests that, while precarious labour has long been part of regimes of control and exploitation in the region, precarity today is shaped by the blurry boundaries between the legal and the illegal, between local and global lives, and between different worlds of belonging.
... Taking on hazardous and low paying jobs that citizens of the receiving countries are unwilling to take (the "3-D" jobsdangerous, dirty, degrading (Benach et al. (2011)) such as mining, agriculture, construction, and domestic work, low SES migrant workers are restricted from giving voice to any health or workplace safety concerns due to fear of deportation (International Organization for Migration, 2018). Exacerbating the effects of poor healthcare and insurance usually reserved for those with citizenship status (Strauss & McGrath, 2017;Yea, 2017), communicative marginalization works to silence the dialog required to improve health services and outcomes for this precariously positioned community. Dutta-Bergman (2004a, 2004b and Dutta (2008Dutta ( , 2011) see such health inequities as symptoms of a lack of coconstructive engagement with migrant labor voices which are ritually subject to expert prescriptions of healthy practices within the mainstream discourse. ...
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Increasingly, health scholars are paying attention to the health experiences of immigrant communities, particularly in the backdrop of the global flows of goods, services, and people across borders. In spite of the increasing public health emphasis on health outcomes of immigrants within the Middle Eastern (ME) countries, immigrant communities are often constructed as monoliths and the voices of immigrant communities are traditionally absent from mainstream health policy and program discourses. The health experiences of immigrants, their access to resources, and the health trajectories through the life-course followed by them and their descendants influence the deep-seated patterns of ethnic health disparities documented in the ME. Based on the culture-centered approach, we engaged in in-depth face-to-face interviews, and focus groups discussions with a total of 44 research participants, to understand how low-income Bangladeshi migrant workers in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), who live at the borders of mainstream Arab society, define, construct, and negotiate health issues. Participants articulate in their narratives their nuanced cultural understanding of good health as a complex, holistic practice, the achievement of which is obstructed by barriers such as immigration and insurance structures. Further, they enact their agency in resource impoverished circumstances to protect their mental health and physical well-being through daily strategies and acts of resistance.
... 1 This points to a widespread condition of unfree labour, that is, labour extracted through various forms of coercion and compulsion, including economic coercion, that deprive workers of "the type of 'free' choice they are believed to exercise in 'normal' labour markets." (McGrath, 2017: 1). 2 A broad body of literature highlights the importance of the state in creating conditions for unfree labour through policies limiting labour mobility, deregulating the labour market and empowering employers (LeBaron and Phillips, 2019;Strauss and McGrath, 2017;Yea, 2017). As Nicholas De Genova (2013) argued, the spectacle of militarized border enforcement is geared towards immigrants' subordinated inclusion. ...
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... This allows for almost complete authority over workers. On the one hand, employers take advantage of such asymmetries to manipulate employment documents and distort accounts during mediation, threatening repatriation to prevent contestation of precarious work situations (Bal, 2015;Yea, 2017). On the other hand, employers adopt personal paternalistic care towards female domestic workers and arguably to male workers too, enacting thus the control of 'soft violence' (Parren˜as et al., 2021). ...
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This paper demonstrates why and how a fuller geographical perspective extends contemporary scholarship on human trafficking within and beyond the discipline. We employ a relational approach and draw on in‐depth qualitative research with trafficked persons and a range of stakeholders in Slovakia and the United Kingdom (UK), to depict how the processes underpinning human trafficking are non‐linear and operate instantaneously at multiple intersecting scales and temporalities and through diverse mobilities. The analysis problematises the discrete and homogeneous notion of space coupled with a linear conceptualisation of time and, more specifically, the normative portrayals of recruitment, transit and exploitation as distinct and sequential phases of human trafficking. Instead, the individuated experiences of trafficked persons are examined in relational geographies of inequality, manoeuvring and mobilities. Such a conceptual shift ensures that efforts to understand and combat human trafficking address its effects as well as the wider social relations and structural conditions that facilitate exploitation. We conclude the paper by outlining how a relational‐geographic perspective has the potential to foster new forms of dialogue and inquiry within and beyond the discipline.
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This article proposes a cumulative approach to contemporary manifestations of unfree labour based on an exploration of dynamic combinations of common elements of the phenomenon. This understanding challenges enumerative and depoliticized tendencies in current approaches to both characterizing unfree labour and identifying victims. A cumulative approach recognizes the interlocking impacts of multiple forms of compulsion and duress, which shape the choices migrant workers make when their alternatives are severely limited and agency constrained. To illustrate this approach the article draws on a case study of Bangladeshi contract migrant construction workers in Singapore.
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How does precarious work entail social vulnerabilities and moral complicities? Theorists of precarity pose two challenges for analysing labour conditions in Asia. Their first challenge is to distinguish the new kinds of social vulnerability which constitute precarious work. The second is to assign moral responsibility in the social network that produces vulnerability in depoliticised and morally detached ways. In this article, the social and normative dimensions of precarious work are connected through a conceptual investigation into how Singapore allocates responsibility for managing temporary migrant labour. First, it analyses how various management strategies, driven by globalisation and government deregulation, increase worker vulnerabilities. These strategies intensify relations of dependence, disempowerment and discrimination, which the workers may accommodate or resist in limited ways. Second, it assesses why the strategies leave the state, employers, agents and others complicit in producing the vulnerabilities. These actors enable, collaborate with, or condone the production of precarity. Their complicity is complicated by varying support or resistance to reforms. The result is a novel conceptual scheme for analysing the complicit network behind precarious work, which can be used in other sites of precarity where some are complicit in the vulnerability of others.
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Despite labouring for three decades in Singapore, and being connected to the existing Tamil diasporic community there, Tamil migrant construction workers have been left out of state rhetoric and face economic marginalization and social exclusion. In this article, we draw on rich ethnographic data on their everyday experiences of working construction and living in Singapore, and we espouse the distinctive qualities and mission of ethnographically-informed methodologies to enact change in this space. The methods include in-depth interviews with 11 Tamil labourers, and the subsequent use of worker photo diaries, known as auto-photography, with a total of 108 photographs taken. All the participants either worked construction, were on medical leave, or were seeking compensation after workplace injury. The analysis of the interview data develops themes around precarity and discrimination on construction sites (precarity of work), and the exclusory social practices experienced by workers in their offsite world (precarity of place). Following the goals of decolonized research, our innovative methods have enabled Tamil construction workers to present their lives through their own lens. By involving migrant construction workers, we identify new sites of inquiry and knowledge in examining the inequalities and injustices they face.
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This chapter aims to summarize the main findings in the field of agri-food studies and labour mobility by singling out four streams within the debate: (1) food supply-chain restructuring; (2) migration regimes and the recruitment of a transnational workforce in agriculture; (3) current transformations in rural areas; (4) farmworkers’ collective organization and mobilization. Within this lively debate, the agency of unorganized migrant farmworkers has remained so far largely overlooked. This book aims to fill this gap by studying, through an extensive ethnography, the labour process dynamics and the workplace struggles in the biggest greenhouse area in South-eastern Sicily (Italy), known widely as the Transformed Littoral Strip (TLS).
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This article argues that the view of international mobility in the management and organization literature has been too restrictive in focusing only on high-status workers. This view needs to be widened to an all-encompassing perspective that is not limited or restricted in terms of the number, types or status of people engaged in working internationally. In particular, it argues that there are millions of low-status international workers that, with some few exceptions, we have largely ignored. Not only does it mean that scholars are failing to explore the complete picture, it adds to the research-practice gap between those scholars and the practitioners who have to manage workers of all status levels. The article points out the areas where our knowledge is lacking and suggests a “road-map” for future research to overcome these critical gaps.
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The integration of Global South actors into the global agricultural economy has attracted research on labour effects. This is because Global South actors are often integrated at the level of production of raw materials with little power and less capture of gain. To better understand the conceptual perspectives and methodologies underpinning existing empirical studies and provide evidence for the labour-related practice, this paper conducts a systematic review of the methodologies and perspectives applied in the Global Agricultural Production Networks literature. Based on an analysis of 87 articles published in English-speaking journals, we show that the assessment of labour regulatory frameworks' impact on labour issues is more focused on private than public or social forms of governance and on vertical than horizontal frameworks. Wageworkers working on smallholder farms and agro-industries and women have received little consideration, in particular, if compared with wageworkers on plantations, as has the topic of occupational health and safety as a specific key labour issue. Overall, the existing body of empirical research can be characterised as being largely qualitative in nature, underexploiting the potential quantitative or mixed methods research designs. Our review generates methodological ideas and conceptual perspectives for future studies to consider.
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In Singapore, the temporary legal status of migrant domestic workers binds them in servitude to their employer-sponsor as their residency is contingent on their continuous and sole live-in employment with a sponsor whose permission they must secure in order to transfer jobs. This legal status technically renders domestic workers unfree and precarious as it gives employers tremendous power over domestic workers. Based on 30 in-depth interviews with employers, this article examines how employers in Singapore negotiate their power over domestic workers. We identify ‘soft violence’ as a tool that employer’s utilise in their management of domestic workers. By ‘soft violence’, we refer to the practice of cloaking the unequal relationship in domestic work via the cultivation of a relationship of ‘personalism’ while simultaneously amplifying one’s control of domestic workers. Representing a strategy utilised by employers to maximise the labour of domestic workers, ‘soft violence’ emerges from the paradoxical relationship of simultaneously relieving and amplifying servitude.
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The recruitment and deployment of migrant fishers in distant waters (DW) fisheries has emerged as a significant site for the production of unfree labor relations. We trace the recruitment and deployment geographies of migrant fishers from the Philippines to the vessel, conceptualizing the time-spaces of the journey as a significant site for producing unfree labor. We argue that labor brokerage not only establishes the conditions of the labor contract and financialization of migration in the migrants’ home country but is also an ongoing process that intensifies unfreedom through the journey to deployment across multiple sites and temporalities. We conceptualize this movement into exploitative laboring situations as “funnels of unfreedom.” The production of unfreedom through the geographies of recruitment, harboring, and transportation to the destination is one strategy by which DW fleets can reduce costs. The relevance of this discussion extends to other sectors where complex labor brokerage geographies constrain migrant worker choices and fortify unfreedom in labor relations.
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This article aims at developing a conceptual framework of the migrant labour regime (MLR) to better understand the agency of migrants in the semiconductor industry and illustrates this by the example of Filipino migrant workers in the Taiwanese semiconductor industry. Based on semi-structured interviews with key persons in the semiconductor industry, the study demonstrates the different roles of actors and connections within the global production network (GPN). With regard to the theoretical contribution, this article develops a conceptual framework of the MLR and addresses three central actors in multi-scalar networks, that is, state, firms, and LMI. The framework proposed in this article offers more analytical clarity to the primary empirical contribution. Therefore, the article identifies three key factors of dynamics in GPNs. First, it emphasises the importance of the state and firms in shaping the MLR. Regulatory institutions at the national level hinder upward mobility of migrant workers and long-term employment relationships because working contracts do not allow employees to change job tasks or employers freely. Second, the coordination between contract manufacturers and lead firms in the GPN leads to a transformation of the workplace, for example, intensification and increased flexibility. Third, LMIs play a role in facilitating and mediating migrant labour in the transnational labour market.
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Exploitation of international migrant workers in the Global North has been increasingly framed in terms of trafficking, in political and legal domains and by the media. Yet posing trafficking as a phenomenon that captures the unfreedom experienced by migrants obscures the variegated means through which unfree labour relations are both institutionalized, and related to more ‘mundane’ forms of exploitation including precarious employment (for migrants and non-migrants alike). In this paper we argue that conceptualizing forms of unfreedom along a continuum of labour relations highlights this interrelationship, which for migrant workers includes attempts to harness and control mobilities through immigration regimes that restrict mobility bargaining power within labour markets. We use the example of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) in Canada to show how precarious employment, precarious legal status and unfree labour relations interact, and how they are negotiated and contested by of workers themselves.
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By severely constraining the political personhood of temporary migrant workers, states’ use of deportation laws seeks to curb agitation among these workers. Despite this, various episodes of unrest have been witnessed in both liberal and illiberal regimes across Asia. Drawing on a case study of Bangladeshi migrant construction workers in Singapore, this paper examines the development of migrant labour politics as deportation laws, and their enforcement, construct these workers as “use-and-discard” economic subjects. Data for the paper are drawn from multi-level sources—government, industry, media, and non-governmental organization (NGO) reports; interviews with key actors; and a participant observation stint in a construction firm—collected between 2010 and 2014. The paper argues that, rather than solely constraining, deportability serves as a constituent of certain forms of tactical worker contestations in the workplace. Specifically, under different workplace conditions, deportability can translate into differing forms of worker tactics, ranging from accommodation to confrontation and desertion. The outcomes of these strategies, in turn, have significant repercussions for the ways in which civil society groups and state-actors, respectively, challenge and reconfigure the political personhood of temporary migrant workers.
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The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has developed a concept of decent work and set this as a standard in 1999. However, in many places in the world people labour under conditions that are far from ‘decent’. Many people are subject to forced labour and experience unfreedoms, which raises important theoretical and practical issues. In this contribution we set out some of the ways in which forced labour manifests and how it has been changing over recent years in India. India is of particular interest because, according to the ILO, Asia, and India within Asia, has more victims of forced labour than any other region. India illustrates that specific structures of social relations underpin one’s vulnerability to becoming a victim of forced labour. It illustrates also that forms of forced labour integrate into and develop within capitalism. Although neo-liberal policy prescriptions are formally opposed to forced labour, the neo-liberal capitalist system also facilitates its reproduction and spread.
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The EU regulatory regime and employers’ cross-border recruitment practices complicate unions’ ability to represent increasingly diverse and transnationally mobile workers. Even in institutional contexts where the industrial relations structure and labour law are favourable, such as the Netherlands, unions struggle with maintaining labour standards for these workers. This article analyses Dutch union efforts to represent hyper-mobile construction workers at the Eemshaven construction sites. It shows that the nexus of subcontracting, transnational mobility, legal insularity and employer anti-unionism complicate enforcement so that even well-resourced unions can, at best, improve employment conditions for a limited set of workers and only for a limited period of time.
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This article analyses the widely reported increase of unfree labour in Africa through neoliberalism, arguing that, far from an individual relationship of domination epiphenomenal to global political-economic restructuring, unfree labour must be understood as a social relationship of insecurity and exploitation whose acceleration in recent decades is traceable to broader shifts in the relations of production and social reproduction. These include the impact of labour market reform and privatisation on wages, employment and poverty; the rise of informalisation, including the marketisation of social reproduction; Africa in the international division of labour and labour conditions in global supply chains; and the rise of brics, the ‘new scramble’ for African resources and markets, and intensified processes of primitive accumulation. In a continent beleaguered by the slave trade and the systematic, widespread and brutal exploitation of forced labour during the colonial era, concerns around labour conditions of violence, bondage and coercion are particularly acute. Understanding the complexities of labour unfreedom in Africa today requires an understanding of the various forms and layers of coercion, immobility and exploitation fundamental to the contemporary social structures of capitalist accumulation, overcoming the binary typically posited between free and unfree labour.
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This article is located in the maelstrom of debate about immigration and employment in the contemporary economy. The article presents original analysis of data from the Labour Force Survey and a workplace case-study in the cleaning sector to highlight growing employer dependence on a very diverse pool of foreign-born labour. The article explains such dependency by drawing on interview material collected from employers, employers' associations, community organizations and policymakers. In sum, we argue that London's Migrant Division of Labour (MDL) is a product of the semi-autonomous actions taken by employers, workers and government in the particular context of London. Understanding the MDL thus needs to encompass employer demand, migrants' `dual frame of reference' and limited access to benefits, as well as employers' preference for foreign-born workers over `native' labour supply.The state is also argued to play a critical role in this employment, determining the nature and terms of immigration, the accessibility and levels of benefits, and employment regulation. London's MDL is shown to intersect with, and in some cases overturn, existing patterns of labour market segmentation on the basis of human capital (class), ethnicity and gender.
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The growth of precarious work since the 1970s has emerged as a core contemporary concern within politics, in the media, and among researchers. Uncertain and unpredictable work contrasts with the relative security that characterized the three decades following World War II. Precarious work constitutes a global challenge that has a wide range of consequences cutting across many areas of concern to sociologists. Hence, it is increasingly important to understand the new workplace arrangements that generate precarious work and worker insecurity. A focus on employment relations forms the foundation of theories of the institutions and structures that generate precarious work and the cultural and individual factors that influence people's responses to uncertainty. Sociologists are well-positioned to explain, offer insight, and provide input into public policy about such changes and the state of contemporary employment relations.
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The growth of global economic activity has resulted in a worldwide increase in migration. Despite the growing interest in migratory labour flows, there remains little detailed empirical research about the labour relations practices experienced by immigrant workers. In this article, three general areas are examined from data collected in the Republic of Ireland: (1) what are the experiences of non-Irish national workers employed in different sectors of the economy; (2) do trade unions facilitate the integration of migrant workers in the Irish labour market; and (3) what are the strategies undertaken by trade unions in response to the challenges of immigration? Ethnographic and qualitative research methods were employed to address these broad research objectives. The evidence shows that many immigrant workers have experienced a system of near-serfdom that perpetuates social, economic and cultural exclusion on a large scale. The conclusion argues that an emerging `glocalization' of the world economy creates a labour market dynamic underpinned by neoliberal policies of the nation-state. The evidence suggests that traditional views of migration and industrial relations theory are found wanting when seeking to explain the concerns of migrant workers. A number of implications arising from this are then discussed.
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This article compares trade union strategies towards migrant workers from the ‘new Europe’. The analysis focuses on three sectors in the UK, Norway and Germany. We conclude that trade union responses to these migrant workers are shaped by the complex interplay of national industrial relations systems, sectoral dynamics, EU regulation and the agency of individual trade unions.
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This article discusses the social, economic, and political factors that led to the rise and consolidation of precarious work in various countries in Asia. We first define what we mean by “precarious work” and its utility for describing the growth of work that is uncertain and insecure and in which risks are shifted from employers to workers. We then provide an overview of the factors that generated precarious work in industrial nations, notably the spread of neoliberalism as a political and economic perspective, the expansion of global competition, and technological development. These macro structural influences created an impetus for greater flexibility among both states and employers, which in turn led to more precarious work in both formal and informal sectors of the economies of many Asian countries. This, in turn, has provoked various types of resistance on the part of workers against the negative consequences of precarious work.
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This article presents an analysis of slave labour (as it is known in Brazil) among sugar cane workers within a globalising production network. It employs the Global Production Network (GPN) framework to argue that the dynamics of production networks are fundamental to the reproduction of unfree and degrading labour in this case. First, the power exercised by buyers is a key aspect of processes resulting in slave labour. Conversely, efforts to combat slave labour have been strengthened by acknowledging and working through this power. Second, the state exercises governance within the production network rather than only providing its institutional context. Beyond these dynamics, however, wider processes are involved in making labour available on particular terms and conditions. Third, then, processes of racialisation facilitate the imposition of restrictions on workers’ mobility, degrading conditions and intensification of work. Labour is, in other words, devalued. This implies that the ways in which competing judgments over value are resolved merit as much attention in GPN analysis as is currently given to the creation, enhancement and capture of value.
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This article strives to meet two challenges. As a review, it provides a critical discussion of the scholarship concerning undocumented migration, with a special emphasis on ethnographically informed works that foreground significant aspects of the everyday life of undocumented migrants. But another key concern here is to formulate more precisely the theoretical status of migrant "illegality" and deportability in order that further research related to undocumented migration may be conceptualized more rigorously. This review considers the study of migrant "illegality" as an epistemological, methodological, and political problem, in order to then formulate it as a theoretical problem. The article argues that it is insufficient to examine the "illegality" of undocumented migration only in terms of its consequences and that it is necessary also to produce historically informed accounts of the sociopolitical processes of "illegalization" themselves, which can be characterized as the legal production of migrant "illegality.".
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Widely divergent forms of action research are emerging to meet requirements of new organizational and social environments. Cases in this special issue are tangible examples of these innovative AR efforts. This article identifies key dimensions that cut through the cases and allow for comparison and contrast. These dimensions include (1) the system level of the charge target, (2) the degree of organization of the research setting, (3) the degree of openness of the AR process, (4) the goals and purpose of the research effort, and (5) the role of the researcher(s). Dimensions are used to locate cases and to support discussion of qualitative aspects that are crucial to understanding. Several general learnings derived from the dimensional analysis and discussion are described.
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The lived, and oftentimes silenced, experiences of "foreign workers" articulate the negotiation of power relations between "citizen" and "foreigner", and "Us" and "Them". These are translated into discursive practices that, in effect, legitimize and entrench differences — hence, inequalities — that effectively discipline the "foreign worker" as "not one of Us". By taking the example of Bangladeshi construction workers in Singapore as a case study, I argue in this paper that the workspaces of "foreign construction workers" in Singapore typify that of a "total institution", which correspondingly moulds the worker into a discursive ideal — the "good, docile Other". Such impositions and productions of Otherness, however, face rupture as workers (re)negotiate, (re)work, and (re)inscribe their everyday lives through the employment of what James Scott (1985, 1987) terms "everyday 'resistances'" in rising above that which subjugates them. I will present in this paper primary data elicited and collated from direct participant observation, fieldwork, and in-depth interviews conducted in a construction project in Singapore.
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An estimated 1.5 million citizens of Burma reside as refugees or migrants in Thailand, where harsh treatment, harassment and social stigmas contribute to a climate of precarity. Although one possible course of action for any community under strain is political mobilisation, for migrants from Burma in the northern city of Chiang Mai, high degrees of exploitation and insecurity have generated an overwhelming disinterest in political issues. The article examines this relationship in five main sections. The first presents the two key concepts that structure the analysis: precarity and political mobilisation. The second examines the context of migration from Burma to Thailand, focusing both on the climate of unrest found in much of Burma and on Thailand's treatment of migrant workers, its non-participation in core international legislation and its sub-standard migrant registration system. The third explains how this study of Burmese migrants in Chiang Mai was undertaken and reviews the ethical considerations required in a study of vulnerable groups. The fourth documents the study's findings and presents migrants' testimony. The fifth seeks to explain the link between precarity and political passivity in this case, and considers the wider implications. The concluding section restates the core finding.
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The vast majority of migrant workers in Thailand are employed predominantly in low-paying occupations commonly described as “3-D jobs” (dangerous, dirty, and difficult). Currently, there are nearly two million documented and undocumented migrant workers, mostly from neighbouring Burma, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, and Cambodia, employed in various industries, including domestic service, throughout the country. While over half a million migrants are officially registered to work in the country, both documented and undocumented migrant workers remain unprotected primarily due to the lack of concrete measures to monitor, implement and enforce laws regarding working and living conditions. Regardless of where they are employed, migrant workers face common problems: low wages; harmful working conditions, poor living conditions; discrimination and harassment, the threat of arrest and deportation; and lack of access to basic resources such as medical care and legal assistance. Based on preliminary research conducted in the summer of 2005, this article looks at the situation of migrant factory and domestic workers in Thailand and explores the ways in which local activists, NGOs, community-based organisations, and international bodies have been looking to assist and protect migrant workers. Successful migrant workers’ struggles and ongoing efforts of mobilization have been made possible with the help of these support groups, and raise the possibility that union and NGO activity have the potential to improve the situation of migrants in Thailand. This also raises the question of whether advocacy groups should be acting in lieu of the state rather than alongside the state, especially when it appears that they are fulfilling their civic duty as enforcer and monitor of migrant workers’ problems.
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Codes of labour practice implemented by corporate buyers in their global production networks are one dimension of corporate social responsibility (CSR). Research indicates the benefits of codes for workers are limited and they fail to reach the most vulnerable workers, particularly those employed by labour contractors who face the worst employment conditions. This contribution argues that the commercial dynamics of global production networks provides an opening for civil society organizations to pressure for codes, but simultaneously drives the use of a vulnerable and insecure workforce that is the ‘Achilles Heel’ of codes. Whilst codes have a role to play, inherent tensions underpinned by a commercial logic mean they should only ever be viewed as one strand in broader strategies that address the rights of the most vulnerable workers in global production.
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There has been little engagement between the organized labour and labour migration literatures. Studies of organized labour movements in Asia have traditionally focused on trade unions that organize workers in factories, in offices, and on the plantations of the countries in which those unions are based, or on international cooperation between such unions. Studies of migrant labour, on the other hand, have tended to emphasize the demographic features of labour migration flows, or the experiences of migrant workers in either their country of origin or their host society. Yet, with the help of local and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), migrant workers from countries such as the Philippines and Indonesia are beginning to organize both at home and abroad. This article examines the emergence and operation of both migrant labour NGOs and migrant labour associations from a labour movement perspective. It focuses on the schism between the literature on labour migration, in which descriptions of migrant labour NGOs most often appear, and the literature on organized labour, which has generally ignored both the increasing significance of temporary overseas labour migration and the role of non-union bodies in the organization of labour. Examples from Indonesia and Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of China (herinafter Hong Kong) are used to argue that the experiences of migrant labour NGOs and migrant labour associations should be taken more seriously by trade unions and by the scholars who study them.
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In Britain, international migrants have very recently become the major workforce in labour-intensive horticulture. This paper explores the causes of the dramatic increase since the 1990s in the employment of migrant workers in this subsector. It locates this major change in a general pattern of intensification of horticultural production driven by an ongoing process of concentration in retailer power, and in the greater availability of migrant workers, shaped in part by state initiatives to manage immigration. The paper draws on concepts developed in the US literature on agrarian capitalism. It then uses case histories from British horticulture to illustrate how growers have directly linked innovations involving intensification through labour control to their relationships with retailers. Under pressure on ‘quality’, volume and price, growers are found to have ratcheted up the effort required from workers to achieve the minimum wage through reducing the rates paid for piecework, and in some cases to have changed the type of labour contractor they use to larger, more anonymous businesses. The paper calls for further, commodity-specific and spatially-aware research with a strong ethnographic component. Copyright
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Immigration controls are often presented by government as a means of ensuring 'British jobs for British workers' and protecting migrants from exploitation. However; in practice they can undermine labour protections. As well as a tap regulating the flow of labour; immigration controls function as a mould, helping to form types of labour with particular relations to employers and the labour market. In particular; the construction of institutionalised uncertainty together with less formalised migratory processes, help produce 'precarious workers' over whom employers and labour users have particular mechanisms of control.
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This paper seeks to identify the spatialized dimensions of labour control in sites of rapid and recent industrialization in Southeast Asia. Using a comparative analysis of locations in Penang (Malaysia), Batam (Indonesia) and Cavite/Laguna (the Philippines), it is argued that the construction and control of space has been used to enhance control over the working body, and, in particular, to contain labour organization, unionization and collective bargaining. Three broader arguments are made. First, that labour geographies need to be cognizant of the spatialized politics of labour beyond a narrow focus on the trade union movement. Second, that space is a potent tool in labour control and must be explicitly considered alongside the identity–based control strategies and institutional structures that have usually informed studies of labour regimes in newly industrializing contexts. Finally, a comparative perspective on local labour markets, and control regimes in particular, shows that the ways in which space is constructed and controlled differs between contexts, implying that universal judgements on the relevance or importance of particular arenas or spaces for labour politics should be reserved.
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The aim of this article is to assess the connections between the continued expansion of forms of insecure work and the impact of rising numbers of economic migrants employed in UK labour markets. It shows how competition between foreign-born workers for jobs in the UK is currently being recast by changes in the jobs available, in forms of precarious labour market attachment and by new patterns of migration into the UK since EU expansion in 2004. The article documents the ways in which migrants with different sets of social characteristics (nationality, gender and skin colour) and different sets of legal entitlements (legal citizenship, EU membership and entitlement to residence) are differentially placed in their competition for some of the poorest jobs in the British economy, drawing on an empirical study of the migrant divisions of labour emerging in two significant sectors in the service industries. It concludes by arguing that new and deeper divisions are emerging between foreign-born workers in the UK. © 2009 The Author. Journal Compilation
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Following a brief background on Singapore's development from a product of overlapping diasporas to a multiracial nation, this paper gives attention to the dynamics of renewed streams of transnational labour flows in the current decade in the shaping of the global city. It examines the bifurcated nature of Singapore's foreign labour policies and how the transience/permanence divide is predicated on 'skill'. On the one hand, structural (non)incorporation of contract workers as they are inscribed into (and simultaneously proscribed by) the host society results in vulnerability among what are already heavily marginalised and 'flexibilised' workers with little job security and no opportunities for social advancement within the host society. On the other hand, building a nation in the image of globalisation also requires selectively inclusionist projects to entice foreign talent - highly skilled professional workers, technopreneurs, entrepreneurs and investors - in order to keep Singapore in the global race. These differential politics of inclusion and exclusion lock transmigrants into two structurally determined sectors of society and the economy, with, currently, no possibility of interpenetration. Copyright (c) 2006 by the Royal Dutch Geographical Society KNAG.