Thailand’s labour changes

Arlene Nietes Satapornvanit is a PhD student at the University of Stirling and has been looking at how Thailand’s shrimp farms have changed over the last few years. Read below about her work on what drives labour changes in Thailand’s aquaculture systems.

Earlier this year, Arlene conducted interviews with shrimp farmers who responded to a previous survey in 2010-2011, in collaboration with the SEAT-KU team (1st stage). The aim of the survey was to track changes applied by the farmers to their operations over the last few years, with particular emphasis on their workforce. Of the 124 shrimp farmers approached, 117 responded to the survey.

Interviews at housing area

One of the main reasons for changes in the workforce, was the introduction of autofeeders. The addition of these to a farm makes the work load of individuals lighter, but also means that farms need less people working for them. Other farmers who reduced their workforce cited a variety of reasons, including low profit margins, difficulties associated with encouraging people to work on shrimp farms and issues related to shrimp mortality problems. For around a third of farmers, shrimp farming was not the main source of income, and was just a supplementary venture.

As for the workers themselves, Arlene interviewed a small group, almost all of whom had come to work for shrimp farms through informal networking with existing workers. Farm owners often request their workers to recruit friends and relatives, due to the ability to cooperate and understand each other, leading to a harmonious working¬†environment. The workers are not all Thai nationals, with several respondents being from Laos and Burma, but all of them consider themselves better off from working in the shrimps farms, and more than they would be in any other industry. The shrimp farm workers say that the combination of benefits like free housing and meals plus a basic salary allow them to save money, and they also enjoy being able to work and live with their family. The lady pictured below, for instance, was able to move with her husband to work on the farm, allowing them to save money and send it back to their hometown for their children’s education.

Couple interview

Shrimp early mortality syndrome (EMS) has also affected the the farms, with some working at quarter or half capacity or have closed down altogether. Obviously this results in reduced incomes for farmers and workers, though the latter party has the freedom to move into another industry.

And the bottom line? “With changes in labour occurring depending on shrimp farming situation, SEAT might need to think about using labour as one of its criteria in determining farm scales,” says Arlene.


All images courtesy of Arlene Nietes Satapornvanit.

Photo © Loni Hensler