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It Takes a Village: Civil Society Regulation of Employment Standards for Temporary Migrant Workers in Australian Horticulture


Stephen Clibborn

How can civil society actors address regulatory deficiencies in complex systems? The challenge of regulating employment standards in non-unionised industries is shared by many developed countries. In industries like horticulture, violation of minimum employment standards for vulnerable temporary migrant workers is widespread and state employment regulators struggle to enforce laws. This article examines the challenge at a system level incorporating a range of civil society stakeholders. It conceptualises a regional town and its surrounding horticulture-dependent economy and society as a complex system in which stakeholders face the challenge of reputational damage among temporary migrant farm workers, threatening future labour supply. This ‘tragedy of the commons’ was created by some stakeholders acting solely in their individual interests by underpaying and otherwise mistreating the workers. Using a qualitative approach including 30 interviews, focusing on a single farming region in Queensland, Australia, this article identifies the conditions in which civil society stakeholders in a horticulture system regulate employment standards through orienting and connecting with one another to advance both individual and shared interests.

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(2019) 42(1) UNSWLJ 242: