Beyond Normative Rights: A Framework for Assessing Destination Country Labour Migration Regimes in Asia

Stream: Panel 13 - Comparative Politics: Themes in Temporary Migration
Date: Monday, 26 September 2016
Time: 2.00 pm – 3.30 pm


Since the 1970s, there has been an enormous expansion of temporary labour migration within Asia. Some foreign workers are highly skilled, highly mobile expatriates looking to expand their professional horizons. Millions of others, however, are employed on limited-term contracts in a diverse range of blue-collar occupations, in the service sector, or as para-professionals in industries like healthcare. This army of skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled temporary labour migrants—themselves, overwhelmingly Asian—plays a vital role in the economic systems of the wealthier countries in the region. From Thailand to Taiwan, they work in factories, on fishing fleets, construction sites and plantations; they staff restaurants and hospitals; keep house; and care for the aged and the very young. While these individuals’ experiences of temporary labour migration are in some part idiosyncratic, the underlying determinants of the range of possibilities available to individuals are indisputably systemic. Migration status is not the only determinant of marginality. Temporary labour migrants’ capacity to access the protections available to citizens is also dictated by their labour market position, which in turn determines their access to the formal industrial relations system. This paper proposes a model that positions migration and employment relations as mutually constituting axes of a country-specific labour migration regime that determines the extent to which migrant workers can operationalize their labour rights, including access to representation by a trade union. This model is then operationalized with reference to the seven main destination countries for temporary labour migrants in Asia.


Michele Ford (Presenter), University of Sydney
Professor Michele Ford is Director of the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre and an ARC Future Fellow. Her research interests are in Southeast Asian labour movements, labour migration and trade union aid. Michele’s research has been supported by several Australian Research Council Discovery Project grants related to these and other topics. She has also been involved in extensive consultancy work for the international labour movement and the Australian government.