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Production politics and migrant labour advocacy in Singapore

Bal, C.S. (2014) Production politics and migrant labour advocacy in Singapore. Journal of Contemporary Asia, 45 (2). pp. 219-242.

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Since 2005, NGO activism, calling for greater legal protection for contract migrant workers has been the most concerted challenge to Singapore’s migrant labour regime. Despite a severely restricted civil society space, migrant labour advocacy has delivered small but significant reforms to laws covering migrant labour. The existing literature on migrant labour advocacy focuses on the importance of civil society space in determining the outcomes of organised contention. In the Singapore context, the limitations of advocacy are emphasised and explained in terms of the illiberal nature of the People’s Action Party-state and the strategies deployed by non-governmental organisations. Such an approach is limited in its explanatory potential as it only states what political spaces are not available without examining how spaces for contention are created. In contrast, this article identifies the production politics between migrant workers and their employers as crucial in influencing the extent to which spaces for non-governmental organisation contention can be carved out. Accordingly, this article argues that forms of production politics leading to worker desertion from the workplace, rather than tactical accommodation, have provided non-governmental organisations with the impetus to push forward reform agendas within an authoritarian political environment.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Asia Research Centre
Publisher: Taylor & Francis
Copyright: © 2014 Journal of Contemporary Asia
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