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In the years following Qatar’s successful 2010 bid to host the FIFA World Cup 2022, there has been a significant shift in its engagement with the migrant labour rights discourse, and subsequent embarkment on significant reforms as the result of intense international scrutiny and advocacy action. The core feature of Qatar’s historically evolved transnational labour management system, Kafala, has become a key focal point of international advocacy efforts. The objective of this article is to assess the extent to which the reforms constitute a break in Qatar’s historical (that is, pre-FIFA 2022) labour management system, and thus a meaningful disruption to the social reproduction regime that allowed the Kafala system to persist. We do so by probing the institutionalisation of those reforms, with a particular focus on the agency of labour through collective worker empowerment. Drawing on interviews with key transnational actors involved in the reform process in situ, we employ the ‘established-outsider’ relations concept in our analysis of the reforms, while highlighting the remaining challenges. Our ultimate argument is that although the reforms in Qatar seek to provide more labour rights and protections, they fall short of loosening the absolute control of sponsors (kafeels) over their employees. This is due to two main reasons: the absence of strong and effective institutions to convert the legal reforms into rights in practice; and the fact that laws outside of the labour ministry, that fall under the jurisdiction of the interior ministry, are the foundation of the relationship between citizens and migrants and remain largely untouched. These double-edged limitations guarantee the social reproduction of the highly unequal labour mobility system by firmly keeping in place ‘established-outsider’ relations.

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Labour regime analysis is enjoying a resurgence as a way of (re-)centring workers at the heart of questions concerning the organisation of production and social reproduction in the global economy (Baglioni et al, 2022). Migrant labour, and specifically the regulation of migrant labour, is part and parcel of these dynamics yet is often left to the sidelines of labour process studies. Bringing together six papers presented at the 2023 International Labour Process Conference at Strathclyde University, this themed issue of Work in the Global Economy considers how our understandings of international labour migration and its regulation can be extended through a transnational labour mobility regime approach. The rationale is to bring together labour process approaches and theoretical insights from migration studies. These six contributions examine how transnational labour mobility within and from the majority world intersects with a variety of specific local labour control regimes (Jonas, 1996), collectively foregrounding how the bordering of capital-labour relations (within/ beyond the worksite/ state) informs workers’ individual and collective struggles for life and livelihoods.

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The recent expansion of regional guestworker migration schemes has altered the political economy of the South Pacific, creating a ‘permanent labour reserve’ (MacWilliam, 2022) for low-wage industries in rural Australia and New Zealand. Historical structures of uneven development, against which the ‘blackbirding’ of indentured Kanaka labourers took place more than a century prior, have again enabled a transnational labour (im)mobility regime in which Pasifika workers are rendered unfree and situated as a ‘fix’ for accumulation: limited to racialised and gendered labour practices, tied to employer-sponsors in remote locations, and without the rights afforded to other migrant workers. Taking the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme as the paradigmatic example of a resurgent guestworker model in the region, this article foregrounds overlooked processes of transnational social reproduction that emerge from the interplay of restrictive migration policies and exploitative Local Labour Control Regimes (LLCRs). Drawing on extensive in-depth interviews with migrant workers, their family members, and government staff from four participating Pacific Island Countries (PICs), it examines how the PALM scheme spatially and temporally reconfigures care practices, skills formation, and communal labour to progressively deplete (Rai et al, 2014) socially reproductive capacity within the South Pacific. The article concludes by suggesting that the strains the PALM scheme places on social reproduction within PICs is itself a fundamental driver of uneven development across the region.

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Housing and care are key sites of social reproduction that shape and are shaped by the labour process. As a Theory into Practice contribution, this article proposes social reproduction as a corrective that can restore the ‘human’ to discussions on temporary labour migration, including the potential for agency. Traditionally, ‘housing’ and ‘care’ are treated as disparate objects of regulation, which are further fragmented by the process of policy making itself. The article proposes ideas, some reflected in the International Labour Organization (ILO’s) recommendations, to turn aspirational values into lived realities to improve the historical disadvantages faced by temporary migrant workers. While it is widely accepted that this is necessary, we should remain hopeful that it is also achievable.

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The COVID-19 pandemic in Malaysia drew attention to the extremely poor living conditions of the country’s approximately 2.5 million migrants from South and Southeast Asia working in manufacturing, construction, services, and agriculture. International media reports throughout 2020 and 2021 highlighted the overcrowded, unsanitary, and unsafe accommodations provided by employers, including cramped hostels, stacked containers, and rented apartments. This article addresses how migrant worker accommodation in Malaysia is utilised by the state and by employers as a spatial mechanism of control to regulate migrant labour.

This case study draws on over a hundred in-depth interviews with Nepali migrant workers, recruitment agents, employers, and policy officials in Malaysia. We detail how the Malaysian government’s requirement for migrants to live in employer-provided housing forms part of intensified immigration controls implemented by the federal government. This policy effectively transforms employers into ‘landlords’, bringing migrants’ ‘private space’ under their control, thereby enabling employers’ increased surveillance of their activities. We found that employers utilised the opportunity to discipline their workforces and intensify work regimes. We therefore argue that housing has become a double-layered regulatory tool to deepen labour control among migrant populations, perpetuate a state of temporariness, and reinforce visible boundaries between citizens and non-citizens. In the process, migrants’ living quarters (spaces of social reproduction) have been subsumed into the organisation of production, serving the demands of the low-wage, highly-controlled, political economy of Malaysia.

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Mobility (and control over it) is partially mediated by migrant capital and how it is evaluated across time and space. This study draws on the concept of multiple migration – wherein migration is viewed as potentially multidirectional and open-ended over the life course – to examine the plight of male, Mexican hospitality staff globally on the move. These participants are unique in that they had experience working as hospitality staff in different countries under different legal classifications. In the US they were undocumented, in Mexico they were deported nationals, and in Canada they were received as temporary migrant workers. Their accounts bring different mobilities – illegal, forced, contract, and returned – under one analytical frame to illuminate how mobilities are spatially and geographically regulated. As the article details, their mobility depended on the resources they accrued during migration and whether these resources could be converted into relevant capital, with class, gender and race significant mediating factors. When contextualised, their accounts offer unique insights into immigration controls, transnational labour regimes, political economy and how access to capital shapes gendered identities and hierarchies. Their evaluations vis-à-vis other (global) workers also mediated their legal incorporation, governed by normative ideals that shape prospects and life outcomes in the current economy.

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The notion of a labour control regime provides a conceptual framework for understanding the web of actors, institutions and norms that shape disciplinary mechanisms in the labour process. While labour regime approaches have drawn in multiple scales and diverse processes, this paper argues that international migration, and social reproduction in migrant source areas, must also be understood as part of the regime. Focusing on the case of Filipino migrants in the UK fishing industry, we use qualitative interviews conducted in the port of Fraserburgh, Scotland, and a migrant sending community in the province of Cebu, Philippines. We argue that the reproductive processes of workers’ lives in their home communities are an important underpinning of the labour regime they participate in when working on contracts overseas. We identify three sets of reproductive processes in particular: the trajectories of household poverty and debt that propel labour migration; the socialisation and social networks, as well as zones of recuperation, provided by home communities; and, the long-term temporalities of previous investments in fishery migration, as well as future aspirations for financial stability and intergenerational social mobility. While reproductive spaces and processes are not controlling mechanisms in themselves, they do represent an important part of the labour regime and they begin to explain migrant fishers’ forbearance in the face of a disciplinary labour regime.

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This article explores how Indonesian factory workers in Taiwan strive to regain control over time, space, meaning, and dignity in the face of their exploitation, precarity, and racialisation. Drawing on ethnographic insight, I investigate migrant workers’ subjective practices both inside and outside their workplaces. The major contribution to labour mobility regime analysis lies in conceptualising how migrant workers exert agency on an everyday level, beyond formal labour organising. The focus on the everyday brings me, on the one hand, to labour processes at different Taiwanese workplaces that employ migrant workers. On the other, it brings me to the sphere of daily reproduction, that is, time outside waged labour. The article speaks to the central concern of this themed issue, namely theorising the role of social reproduction within labour mobility regimes, as I address the inseparable spheres of production and reproduction as sites of control and agency. I show that, on the shopfloor, Indonesian migrant workers’ practices of regaining control often remain individualised. It is in the sphere of daily reproduction where Indonesian factory workers organise collectively. The workers’ practices are rich and creative, but at the same time they are ambiguous and can result in consent, compliance, or conflict with capital’s attempt to seek profit from migrant labour. Nevertheless, they reveal migrant workers’ interests and desires as well as a (subtle) refusal of their conditions and of the control over their work and lives. This refusal defies victimising representations of migrant labour and paternalistic approaches to migrant workers’ protection.

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This article aims to demonstrate how gender, class, and race are intertwined at the micro level, addressing the interaction of lived life and social policy, through biographical interviews, in Brazil. Less interested in the analysis of inequalities per se, this article focuses on the way black, elderly, poor, female heads of families, living in urban neighbourhoods, manage to subjectively resignify objective domination. The in-depth biographical approach reveals the (re)construction of their subjectivity, defining personal sacrifice as a form of protagonism (agency) and empowerment. This process of resignification occurs by exchanging the unit of experience they relate to, from the individual to the family unit. It engages with social policies (social assistance, public health, and social housing) implemented by the latest Labour Party’s term of office (2003–2016). These policies are based on the role of women as responsible for the family unit. The focus on subjectivity, in different Brazilian metropoles, challenges the production of conformed neoliberal selves, in this case of women, within a specific Global South context, marked by historically high levels of inequality and informal work, since the formal end of slavery.

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We extend the standard optimal linear income taxation model to allow for differences in social and individual work preferences while still maintaining the assumption that individuals are rational. The theoretical and simulation analyses show that when the government places a higher social weight on work than do individuals, the optimal marginal income tax rate (MIT) becomes lower. This implies lower revenue, income guarantee, and overall progressivity. The case for lower MIT is reinforced when the government places a relatively higher weight on work for low earners. Combining our analysis with that of An and Coady (2022), we, on the one hand, agree with previous studies that the optimal nonlinear income tax schedule would be close to the optimal linear one but, on the other, show that the degree of closeness would depend on preference differences. Our work contributes to the burgeoning field of non-welfarist economics.

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