Free and Unfree Workers at Sea: Southeast Asian Frontiers in Regulating Labour Relations in Industrial Fishing

Authors: Peter Vandergeest*, York University
Topics: Marine and Coastal Resources, Human-Environment Geography, Asia
Keywords: Oceans, Frontiers, Fisheries, Labour, Governance
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: Madison B, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The paper examines the extension of state regulation of commercial fisheries to include labour relations in the wake of scandals concerning workers in the fishing industry, with a focus on Southeast Asia and Thailand. A concept of a frontier that pays attention to patterns in labour relations prior to intensification of state regulation enables consideration of how non-state agents including vessel owners and captains, marine ecologies, borders, and workers contribute to shaping working conditions in commercial fishing. This approach reframes current efforts to regulate commercial as working not on a wild unregulated zone, but on a series of dynamic existing practices of freedom and unfreedom involving multiple agents who regulate fisheries work. Using this concept of the frontier also helps explain how and why labour relations in fisheries are positioned as exceptional in relation to terrestrial work, and draws attention to the way that state regulation works through owners and captains, neglecting the agency of workers, or undermining worker agency through restrictive migration policies. An alternative approach to regulating labour relations would do more to enhance collective worker agency in regulating working conditions through promoting unionization or other worker organizations.

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