Undocumented Indonesian Workers in Macau

The Human Outcome of Colluding Interests

Author: Amy Sim and Vivienne Wee

Abstract:

Presenting new research findings on undocumented Indonesian migrant workers in Macau, this article explicates the dovetailing arrangements between public and private sector interests that are systemically creating undocumented labor migration flows. It then shows how these arrangements are structurally inherent in the mutual competitiveness of globalizing nodes of wealth creation. Undocumented migration cheapens production costs and results in a flexible black market of vulnerable, right-less, and exploited workers. Contrary to illusions of an urbanizing Asia with expanding spaces for civil liberties, the development of globally competitive megacities, built and supported by low-skilled migrant workers, rests on a global underclass of transient workers who bear the human costs of transience and labor flexibility, enabling megacities to externalize such costs and enhance their global competitiveness. The article analyzes the vulnerabilities of undocumented Indonesian workers in the context of Macau's rapid economic development as an aspiring megacity. The Macau government's laissez-faire tolerance of such workers is grounded in its need for human labor that is abundant, cheap, marginal, and disposable. The flow of Indonesian migrant workers into Macau is linked to Hong Kong's exclusionary immigration policies, which aim at extricating surplus migrant labor. Meanwhile, the Indonesian government refuses responsibility for its migrant workers in Macau because Macau is not recognized as an official destination. The article shows how public and private interests motivate increasing numbers of migrants to become undocumented overstayers in Macau, as they try to avoid oppressive practices in labor migration from Indonesia and the exclusionary policies of Hong Kong. 



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March 2009
© 1998 ILO/Derrien J.M.