Dignity or Dependence?
This book is about millions on the move. Many are robbed of the true value for their labour, and their dignity is denuded. Others – men, women and innocent children – are deported, detained indefinitely or drowned as a consequence of little more than seeking a better, fairer life.
If I were to offer a dedication without condescension it would be to each one of them.
My understanding of the realities of migrant labour and the relationships of obligation and dependency on which the market feeds came from many sources, very different locations and across time. That said, the common story was of state hubris, law’s complicity, and the careless view of civil society that we are doing these people a favour.
The research done by my students in the ‘Law and Regulation’ course, coming from the personal experience of these workers and the knowledge of committed NGOs, has provided crucial and often confronting first hand insights into the world of exploitation and uncertainty which is the migration/labour nexus.
In Sydney and Singapore my research assistants, and my research scholar Jacqueline Krynda, Lee Hsin and Lim Si Wei helped with substantive information on migrant domestic labour in Singapore, the EU and ASEAN comparative perspective, details on the transition in the European regulatory environment, and human rights concerns in the Middle East. Editorial assistance and bibliographic compilation was also their valued contribution. For originally introducing me to the windows of knowledge in Polanyian thinking, Lee Jia En deserves abiding thanks.
Various parts of the text have been exposed to conference critique in Europe and Asia. The thinking on legal regulation and private property arrangements in labour markets benefitted especially from these discussions.
Research support from the Singapore Management University, and from the University of Sydney is, as always, gratefully acknowledged.
The book could not have been written without the people who are its central concern. Asylum migration and migrant labour marketing is a stain on globalisation. How national interest and world economic priorities trump humanitarian obligations on us all is perhaps the shame of this generation. My concluding emphasis on restoring human dignity is a place to start if the challenges developed here are to be seen by readers as personal as well as perpetual.