A new book, Patterns of Exploitation, written by global migration expert Associate Professor Anna Boucher, Chair of the Discipline of Government and International Relations, is shining a light on global exploitation of migrant workers and how different national legal and policy frameworks can help or hinder the enforcement of their rights.
Using data from 907 court cases involving 1,912 migrants, Associate Professor Boucher, along with a team of lawyers and social scientists, coded and investigated the violations of migrant workers' rights in four major immigration destinations: Australia, Canada, England and the United States (State of California); all migrant-heavy populations.
She also interviewed 53 leading barristers and solicitors from around the world about their work in high profile court cases in this area.
“This research shows that the exploitation of migrant workers is not limited to isolated incidents – it is a widespread phenomenon that affects millions of vulnerable workers around the world,” Associate Professor Boucher said.
“Migrant workers are essential to the global economy but are also subject to widespread workplace violations, including underpayment of wages, unsafe workplace conditions, sexual assault, and even industrial manslaughter.”
“By examining these issues through a comparison of labour laws in four different countries and six labour law jurisdictions over a 20-year period, Patterns of Exploitation aims to provide a detailed picture of how and why migrant workers are exploited globally, and what can be done to better protect them.”
The book divides exploitation into five main categories to analyse data from the 907 court and tribunal cases. The five categories draw on the historical development of labour laws, and include exploitation in the form of criminal infringements, underpayment, safety violations, leave violations and discrimination.
“By drawing upon the interviews with barristers and lawyers representing both employees and employers, I found that ethnicity, gender, nationality, occupational sector, visa status and type, trade union membership and enforcement policy were key factors in explaining patterns of exploitation and variations in violation type,” Associate Professor Boucher said.
However, she said the most significant factor explaining the types of rights abuses experienced by migrants had to do with national industrial relations systems, followed by national enforcement systems.
“The research demonstrates that strong national industrial relations systems are vital to ensuring migrant workers are protected from rampant exploitation and rights-based abuses,” Associate Professor Boucher said.
“This should provide vital insight for policymakers globally. Exemptions in labour laws which give employers greater flexibility to exclude certain claims must be reduced if we are to improve conditions for migrant workers globally. These exemptions, sometimes called ‘carve-outs’ deny rights to migrant workers and make them particularly vulnerable to labour law infringements – particularly due to their often-temporary visa status.”
Associate Professor Anna Boucher is a global migration expert as it intersects with public policy and comparative politics. Her research has been used to advise domestic and international agencies, including the OECD, the Department of Home Affairs, the Department of Employment, Workplace Relations and federal Treasury. She has presented this research before the Australian senate.
DECLARATION: This research was funded by a DECRA Fellowship and SOAR Prize.