May Bulletin: Making order, making sense

Publications, events, and news from May about low-waged labour migration in Asia. Like what you read? Subscribe here.

April 30, 2014 – Kendal, Indonesia. An aspiring domestic worker during a Skype conversation with a possible future employer in Singapore. © Thomas Cristofoletti / Ruom

Brokering through translation 

In the course of their work, employment agents for migrant domestic workers must translate: between English and Indonesian; between law and practice; between Singapore and the Philippines. Brokers carry out these everyday practices of translation to set labour standards, encourage behavioural norms, and influence the employment outcomes and living conditions of migrant domestic workers in Singapore. Drawing together ideas of cultural brokerage and Michael Lipsky’s theory of street-level bureaucracy, we argue that discretion is necessary to brokerage work, but also that brokerage itself (re)produces and transforms the migration industry’s discretionary space. Agents therefore broker between people as well as between interfaces to co-produce a coherent social reality out of the contradictory and overlapping interstices of law, state, language, and culture.

We will be presenting this paper at an upcoming Asia Research Institute workshop titled ‘The Migration Industry: Facilitators and Brokerage in Asia‘, held from 1-2 June 2017.

The news, condensed

A study in Hong Kong reports that migrant domestic workers in the space-starved state are forced to sleep in toilets and cubbyholes. Cambodia lifts a ban on domestic workers going to Malaysia. Despite stringent safety measures, an Indonesian worker falls to her death while cleaning a window. E-payment isintroduced as an option for migrant domestic workers in Singapore. Migrant domestic workers now receive greater personal accident insurance protection in Singapore.

“It changed my life”: An Indian migrant worker who started as a painter earning SGD $18/day is now the self-made boss of his own company in Singapore. On the opposite end of fortune’s wheel, a Chinese migrant worker goes home knowing he will never walk again.

The Building and Construction Authority aims to cut the number of foreign construction workers in Singapore by nearly a third by 2020. A worker wins a negligence claim against employers who hired him illegally. An ex-company director is jailed over a work-pass scam.

Young Bangladeshi-born Singaporean Sazzad Hossain forges ahead as “Dr. English”; from teaching Bangladeshi workers English at a park bench, he is now developing textbooks and heads his own social enterprise to improve migrant workers’ English skills.

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