‘The biggest problem we are facing is the running away problem’: recruitment and the paradox of facilitating the mobility of immobile workers

This research article was first published in the Work, Employment and Society journal and made available online via Sage Journals. The article was authored by Katharine Jones, Leena Ksaifi and Colin Clark.

Fee-charging recruitment industries in Asia have become gatekeepers to temporary employment in low-wage occupations for millions of migrant workers. One of these jobs is live-in domestic work in private households. Increasingly, workers’ recruiters are depicted as contributing to their precarious, sometimes exploitative, working conditions. However, these narratives misunderstand the systemic and regulatory functions of agencies as transnational labour market actors. This article analyses the relationship between domestic work placement agencies in Jordan and Lebanon and their clients (the employers) as they negotiate the recruitment of women from Bangladesh. Drawing on data from 146 qualitative interviews, it addresses the mechanisms of how exploitative, controlling practices are constructed and normalised by agencies in their everyday interactions with their clients as well as with workers. The article argues that placement agencies play a paradoxical role; whilst facilitating global mobility they also broker worker immobility.