Migrant Domestic Workers: Exploring Agency, Exploitation and Security in Singapore and Hong Kong

Shih Joo Tan1
1Monash University, School of Social Sciences, Melbourne, VIC

This thesis contributes to the growing body of critical criminological research on exploitation of migrant women in care work by examining migrant domestic workers’ experiences of exploitation, the ways in which workers perceive and access security, and how these experiences offer accounts of women’s agency. Despite the substantial body of literature detailing how migrant domestic workers are subject to a distinct set of vulnerabilities stemming from their employment in private homes as well as absence of basic protections and entitlements, little is known about how women in these isolated work environments understand, experience and manage work-related exploitation. Nor is there significant research examining how women in these workplaces access formal or informal support within restrictive employment and immigration systems that constrain their spatial mobility and options of redress. This study foregrounds the narratives of female migrant domestic workers through semi-structured interviews with workers in Hong Kong and Singapore. Further, to understand how workers negotiate the operations of regulatory and protection mechanisms, interviews were also conducted with key stakeholders. Exploring these two sites of Singapore and Hong Kong offers an opportunity to analyse the experiences of workers across two jurisdictions that share a similar reliance on migrant domestic workers but which have vastly distinct local contexts, both in terms of regulations and protections. An analysis of these interviews yields’ the workers’ explanations and accounts that add nuance to our understanding of their experiences of exploitation and the forms of practices they choose to engage in to negotiate and contest their exploitation.


Shih Joo is currently a second-year PhD candidate at Monash University, after having completed her BA (Hons) in Criminology from University of Melbourne. Part of Monash’s Migration and Inclusion Centre, her doctoral thesis examines the experiences of female migrant domestic workers in Singapore and Hong Kong. Specifically, her research focuses on workers’ experiences and perception of exploitation, the nexus of protection and regulation practices as well as workers’ agency and security, and how this interplay impacts on workers’ access to justice and protection.


The society is devoted to promoting criminological study, research and practice in the region and bringing together persons engaged in all aspects of the field. The membership of the society reflects the diversity of persons involved in the field, including practitioners, academics, policy makers and students.

Conference Managers

Please contact the team at Conference Design with any questions regarding the conference.
© 2018 Conference Design Pty Ltd