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Migrant health as a human right amidst COVID-19: a culture-centered approach

Mohan J. Dutta (School of Communication, Journalism and Marketing, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand)

International Journal of Human Rights in Healthcare

ISSN: 2056-4902

Article publication date: 24 June 2021

Issue publication date: 22 July 2021




The purpose of this manuscript is to examine the negotiations of health among low-wage migrant workers in Singapore amidst the COVID-19 outbreaks in dormitories housing them. In doing so, the manuscript attends to the ways in which human rights are constituted amidst labor and communicative rights, constituting the backdrop against which the pandemic outbreaks take place and the pandemic response is negotiated.


The study is part of a long-term culture-centered ethnography conducted with low-wage migrant workers in Singapore, seeking to build communicative infrastructures for rights-based advocacy and interventions.


The findings articulate the ways in which the outbreaks in dormitories housing low-wage migrant workers are constituted amidst structural contexts of organizing migrant work in Singapore. These structural contexts of extreme neoliberalism work catalyze capitalist accumulation through the exploitation of low-wage migrant workers. The poor living conditions that constitute the outbreak are situated in relationship to the absence of labor and communicative rights in Singapore. The absence of communicative rights and dignity to livelihood constitutes the context within which the COVID-19 outbreak emerges and the ways in which it is negotiated among low-wage migrant workers in Singapore.


This manuscript foregrounds the interplays of labor and communicative rights in the context of the health experiences of low-wage migrant workers amidst the pandemic. Even as COVID-19 has made visible the deeply unequal societies we inhabit, the manuscript suggests the relevance of turning to communicative rights as the basis for addressing these inequalities. It contributes to the extant literature on the culture-centered approach by depicting the ways in which a pandemic as a health crisis exacerbates the challenges to health and well-being among precarious workers.



Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation, Massey University.Funding: Massey Business School, Massey University.


Dutta, M.J. (2021), "Migrant health as a human right amidst COVID-19: a culture-centered approach", International Journal of Human Rights in Healthcare, Vol. 14 No. 3, pp. 223-239.



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