Seminar Series (No. 1, 2015)

“Governing ASEAN’s Borders: The National/Regional Nexus of Labour Migration”  

  Speakers: Dr Kelly Gerard 
Date: 21 April 2015, Tuesday
Time: 12 noon - 1pm
Venue: Meeting Room 2-6-41 (Building 2, Level 6, No. 41)
Contact person: Bawani Veeriah (Logistics) and Assoc. Prof. Helen Nesadurai (Academic matters)

Speaker’s profile:
Kelly Gerard is Lecturer in Political Science and International Relations at the University of Western Australia. Her research interests span political economy, social movements, and governance in Southeast Asia. She is the author of ASEAN's Engagement of Civil Society: Regulating Dissent (Palgrave Macmillan 2014), and her articles have been published in The Pacific Review, Contemporary Politics, and Globalizations. She received her PhD from the University of Western Australia in 2013, and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Asia Research Centre, Murdoch University. Kelly is currently a visiting fellow of the Southeast Asia Research Centre at the City University of Hong Kong to undertake a project examining the drivers and impacts of ASEAN’s recent reform programme, with this research funded through an Endeavour Cheung Kong Research Fellowship.

In developing the ASEAN Economic Community, member states committed to facilitating intra-ASEAN labour migration. While states have begun implementing agreements governing ‘high-wage’ migration, progress on ‘low-wage’ migration has stalled, despite states’ various commitments and the establishment of an agency and a stakeholder forum to advance this objective. Departing from existing accounts that explain the limitations of ASEAN’s governance of labour migration as reflecting prevailing norms, this paper examines the role of domestic political projects in shaping these developments. Comparing ASEAN’s governance of ‘high-wage’ and ‘low-wage’ migration, the paper charts how these differing approaches have been informed by underlying political economy relationships. The paper demonstrates that ASEAN’s governance of labour migration advances the institution’s dominant interests at the expense of low-wage migrants by enabling recipient states to cherry-pick from the region’s workforce while adjusting their intake of low-wage migrants in accordance with economic conditions. ASEAN’s governance of labour migration simultaneously enables sending states to seek protections for their citizens in response to criticisms from rights advocates, however within the boundaries of facilitating worker deployments. The paper argues that despite rhetoric of a ‘people-oriented’ ASEAN, regional integration remains calibrated to facilitating the defence of powerful interests, thereby furthering, rather than challenging, regional inequalities.