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Journal of Cross-Cultural and Interlanguage Communication

Ed. by Piller, Ingrid

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Volume 33, Issue 1-2


Language, employment, and settlement: Temporary meat workers in Australia

Ingrid Piller / Loy Lising
  • School of Letters, Art & Media (SLAM), The University of Sydney, Rm 248, Transient Building (F12), The University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia
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Published Online: 2014-01-02 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/multi-2014-0003


Australia is one of the world’s largest beef exporters. However, meat processing jobs are widely considered undesirable and are increasingly filled with employer-sponsored migrant workers on temporary long-stay visas. Against this background, our paper explores the role of language in the employment and migration trajectories of a group of meat processing workers from the Philippines in a small town in rural Australia. Methodologically, we employ a case study approach combining macro-data from language and migration policy documents and media reports with micro-data from ethnographic fieldwork. We explore the role of language in recruitment, in the workplace, during leisure time, and in gaining permanent residence in Australia. To begin with, language is not a recruitment criterion as the primary visa holder is hired on the basis of a so-called ‘trade test,’ i.e., observed at butchering work in the Philippines by an Australian recruiter. Spouses of the primary visa holder are also issued a temporary visa and are offered unskilled employment in the same plant. Once in Australia, the participants had few opportunities to practice English at work or in the community. In this way, temporary migrants came to Australia with limited English and had limited opportunities to improve their English in the country. However, visa extensions or the conversion of their temporary visa to a permanent residency visa is contingent upon their English language proficiency and only granted if they achieve a score of Level 5 or above on the IELTS (International English Language Testing System). Because of their limited education and limited practice opportunities, this proficiency level was out of the reach of most of our participants. We conclude by arguing that – in a context where de facto there is no need for English language proficiency – the imposition of English language proficiency requirements for visa extensions and for permanent residency serves to secure the permanent contingency of a sector of the agricultural work force. In a neoliberal global order where the value of agricultural exports and the unemployment rate are fluctuating unpredictably, English language proficiency requirements have thus become a politically acceptable way to ensure a ‘flexible’ labor supply.

Keywords: work migration; meat industry; multilingualism at work; language policy; Australia; Filipinos

About the article

Published Online: 2014-01-02

Published in Print: 2014-01-01

Citation Information: Multilingua, Volume 33, Issue 1-2, Pages 35–59, ISSN (Online) 1613-3684, ISSN (Print) 0167-8507, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/multi-2014-0003.

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