PhD student wins major prize for research on migrant labour regime in Singapore

December 22, 2014

A Murdoch University PhD student, who spent four months working in a construction firm as part of his research, has won a prestigious national award for his thesis about Bangladeshi migrants employed in Singapore.

Dr Charanpal Bal, who studied at the Asia Research Centre in the School of Management and Governance at Murdoch, was a joint winner of the prestigious Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) Thesis Prize. The annual award, which includes a $2,000 prize, is given for the best PhD Thesis on an Asian topic by a student at an Australian university and is selected by a committee of five academics.

Dr Bal’s thesis entitled The Politics of Obedience: Bangladeshi migrant workers and the migrant labour regime in Singapore, links adjustments in the Singapore migrant labour regime to patterns of conflict in the workplace, in the case of Bangladeshi construction workers.

Dr Bal said he was humbled and excited by the award and gave credit to the postgraduate, faculty and staff of the Asia Research Centre for a supportive and intellectually stimulating environment.

Dr Bal’s supervisors, Dr Jane Hutchison and Professor Garry Rodan commended him on his hard work and his ability to transform his fieldwork observations into a sustained, theoretical argument.

“His analysis of migrant labour politics is original, powerful and will influence studies of migrant labour generally,” Professor Rodan said.

Dr Hutchison said Dr Bal, through working at a construction firm in Singapore, was able to record the patterns of workers’ daily engagement with immediate supervisors and their employers.

“Additionally travelling to labour-sending communities in Bangladesh, Dr Bal was able to link workers’ grievances and struggles in the workplace to their own migration objectives, their family and community’s expectation of that migration and the political economy of the recruitment process,” Dr Hutchison said.

“Dr Bal’s important contribution is that he develops an approach to explain the sources of migrant workers’ grievances within the workplace and how and when these are acted upon within and beyond the workplace, on occasions through overt contestations.”

Professor Kevin Hewison, Director of the Asia Research Centre at Murdoch University congratulated Dr Bal on his success and observed that the Centre has long produced some excellent young scholars who had gone on to be influential academics, in Australia and internationally.

Since completing his thesis, Dr Bal has had a journal article accepted for publication by the Journal of Contemporary Asia and is finalising a book proposal from the thesis.

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