The COVID-19 pandemic (the ‘pandemic’) and the Thai government’s immediate responses have significantly affected workers and small-scale producers in many aspects. To explore these impacts and the responses, the Thai CSO Coalition has prepared this briefing note, based on extensive consultations with national stakeholders, to assess the impacts of COVID-19 on small-scale producers and workers. The briefing note is based on key interviews with workers in the Thai seafood supply chain and frontline labour rights civil society organizations (CSOs). Additionally, consultations were held with leading Thai seafood exporters, namely Charoen Pokphand Group (CPF), Seafresh Industry Public Company Limited (Seafresh), and Thai Union Group (TU), to conduct an initial assessment of the company’s policy responses on the ground, reflect on the remaining challenges and discuss further measures to support small- scale producers and workers during the ongoing pandemic.
Based on key stakeholder’s interviews, the assessment found a number of challenges, including both health and safety issues and economic impacts resulting from the government’s and employers’ responses:
- Migrant workers face obstacles to accessing their rights to social security benefits, particularly those related to unemployment or furlough without pay because of language barriers and ambiguous policies.
- Stricter measures in response to the pandemic pose additional challenges to workers, as they are now responsible for finding and purchasing their own protective gears before they can enter their workplace or during their daily commute.
- There is still a lack of understanding among factory workers and fishing workers about how the virus spreads, which poses a significant risk.
- Workers continue to live in close quarters aboard fishing vessels without wearing proper protective equipment, and their families often live in cramped conditions.
- The pandemic has had a significant economic impact on small-scale agricultural producers and small-scale artisanal fishers, as intermediaries had halted the purchase of products from suppliers, and many sub-markets have closed for several months.
- The demand drop in some seafood products has meant that a significant number of workers could no longer survive, since overtime and incentive pay are composed as a significant part of their total incomes, and have decided to leave their jobs.As of June 16th, 2020, the government’s aid package has only recently reached some small-scale agricultural producers and small-scale artisanal fishers, while some are still in the process of eligibility checks.
National seafood exporters have put in place several preventive measures to respond to COVID-19. Some companies go beyond their factories to support and prevent the risks of an outbreak in workers’ households and communities. However, while some companies may have shared COVID-19 educational materials to some of their suppliers, there is still a lack of additional support to their suppliers’ facilities and fishing vessels, which are still at risk of an outbreak due to lack of proper preventive measures.
Although the interviews focused on fishery and seafood workers, and some of the largest seafood companies in the Thailand, the results only provide a snapshot of the complicated and evolving situation during the pandemic. The briefing note aims to reflect perspectives on the ground and highlight some notable examples and remaining gaps. It also provides a set of important recommendations for seafood exporters/vessel owners and global buyers/retailers.
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