Ship to shore rights

Less is more: How policy and technology can impact the Thai labour market for work in fishing

This paper explores the reasons for the labour market dysfunction and possible responses by the Thai Government and employers, including capital investments that can help redress the chronic labour market imbalance and improve the economic viability of the Thai commercial fishing industry.

The report has three sections. First is an exploration of the demand for migrant workers in Thai fishing and the impact of migrant admission policies on the industry. This section details the numbers of vessels by type and fishers by country of origin. This labour demand is contrasted with recent calls for up to 53,000 new fishers, and the apparent lack of interest among large numbers of migrant workers for work in Thai fishing. Finally, this section examines the fit between apparently conflicting policy goals — namely, the hiring of more migrants for work in fishing and reductions in the size of the fishing fleet.

The second section posits a possible policy response to the dysfunction in the labour market via a case study of a Thai commercial fishing vessel reconfigured in 2019 to reduce labour demand. The study demonstrates that an investment of THB1.75 million in simple hydraulic ‘power block’ systems and an upgrade in on-board catch refrigeration systems can simultaneously reduce demand for fishers by 37 per cent and win higher prices for the catch. These labour savings and higher catch value make possible immediate improvements in the wages and working conditions of fishers. The return on investment is attractive and, if paired with loan guarantees, can help offset the reluctance among Thai commercial or public banks to lend to the industry. This section details the reconfiguration costs based on the refitting of a 91-gross tonnage purse seiner in Pattani province and demonstrates how the reconfiguration costs can be offset in a little over one year.

The paper concludes with specific recommendations for government and employers to bring balance to the labour market and decent work to the industry through investments in simple vessel technologies. The ecommendations are also designed to help improve the industry’s sustainability and improve pay and working conditions for workers.