This paper investigates the everyday lived realities of Southeast Asian migrant workers who left the formal sector of the labour market and entered the informal agricultural sector before and during the COVID-19 pandemic in Taiwan. Drawing on observations of migrants' daily lives and farm work and 19 in-depth interviews, it delves into migrants' subjective experiences of vulnerability, paternalism, exploitation, and control at work due to a lack of legal protection and the illegality of their employment. Although the literature has identified a link between ‘running away’ from formal employment and seeking freedom, this research suggests a continuum between experiences of work in the formal and informal economic sectors. The paper sheds new light on mobility, work, illegality, and informality and how these have constantly shaped ‘runaway’ workers' subjective experiences of freedom and unfreedom during the pandemic.
- labour exploitation
- undocumented migrant workers