Handbook of Employment and Society
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Handbook of Employment and Society

Working Space

Edited by Susan McGrath-Champ, Andrew Herod and Al Rainnie

This Handbook deepens and extends the engagement between research concerned with work and employment and labour geography. It links fundamental concepts concerning the politics of place that human geographers have developed in recent years with the world of work.
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Chapter 9: Filipino Migration and the Spatialities of Labour Market Subordination

Philip F. Kelly


Philip F. Kelly In 1987 a national controversy erupted in the Philippines when it was revealed that the new edition of the Oxford English Dictionary would include the word ‘Filipino’, and that one of the associated usages of the word would refer to ‘domestic help’. A few years later, a Greek dictionary similarly defined the word as a generic term for a maid or nanny – as in, ‘my Filipina is Mexican’. These incidents epitomised a nagging malaise afflicting Filipino national self-esteem. By the late 1980s, for many countries around the world, the Philippines had become a major supplier of subordinate working-class labour. As engine hands on ships, as construction workers in the Middle East, as production line operators in Taiwanese factories, or as domestic workers in Canada and Europe, expatriate Filipinos have come to occupy the least secure, least remunerative and least desirable places in the global labour market. Why is it that Filipinos appear to have been incorporated into the global labour market in this way? This is essentially two questions, rather than one: why Filipinos, and why the concentration in subordinate occupations? An orthodox approach to these questions would focus upon the education and skills that an employee brings to the labour market and the motivations and rationalities that a migrant acts upon in deciding to work and live overseas. But such approaches devolve all explanation to the scale of the individual migrant worker and are entirely inadequate to explain why migrant workers from a particular place appear...

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