Journal article / Shifting Labour Relations, the Worker-agent, and Migrant Labour to Kerala

Raj, Jayaseelan, and Richard Axelby. ‘From Labour Contractors to Worker-Agents: Transformations in the Recruitment of Migrant Labourers in India’. Contributions to Indian Sociology 52, no. 3. Published ahead of print, 2 May 2019.

Abstract (edited): This article examines the circumstances in which the tasks performed by professional labour contractors may be passed on to worker-agents. It does so by critically engaging with the experience of migrant workers from the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand as they travel to work in the Peermade tea belt in Kerala.

Specifically, we identify shifts in economic and political contexts that have permitted these functions to pass from labour contractors to workers-agents and from a Sardari (top-down) to a Ristedari (kinship based) system. Outlining the functions of the labour contractor—as bridge, broker and buffer—the article details the complex processes and the series of negotiations that occur during the transition from labour contractor to worker-agent-led recruitment and the implications of this shift for labour relations in the production setting.

We conclude by calling for further consideration of the ‘worker-agent’ as a key emerging figure in understanding the contemporary transformations in the reproduction of footloose migrant labour, which may have larger ramifications for other contexts in South Asia and beyond.

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Reposted from Kerala Scholars eGroup

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