Contracting Labour

In 2016 Jayaseelan Raj and I travelled to Dumka and Godda District in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand to find out about changes in the nature of labour recruitment. We turned out findings into an article which critically engages with the experience of migrant workers as they travel to work in the Peermade tea belt in the South Indian state of Kerala. Specifically, the article identifies key 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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