Social Reproduction and Labour Control Regimes: Migrant Fishing Workers from the Philippines.
Labour regime analysis has evolved to examine the multitude of actors and institutions that shape processes of employment, exploitation, discipline and resistance. Social reproduction, both daily and intergenerational, is an explicit part of the labour regime, but reproduction does much more than simply socializing, supporting and supplying the labour force. As Baglioni (2022: 448) points out, the home “is simultaneously a core site for reproducing and disciplining workers” (emphasis added).
Employment in distant water fishing fleets is well known to be one of the world’s most undesirable forms of work. Over the last decade, numerous reports have highlighted the role of vessel owners, captains/officers, recruiters and disinterested states in enacting or facilitating exploitative, dangerous and coercive labour practices (Yea et al 2022). These circumstances are especially acute for (all-male) migrant crew members whose citizenship, class and racialized identity make them vulnerable in a labour regime that is already relatively unmonitored and unregulated.
Within the labour regime that deploys migrant crew members in distant water fleets, the role of social reproduction in the household and the family has not received a great deal of attention. And yet, as Baglioni suggests, relations in the home do far more than just reproduce workers for another day’s work or another contract at sea. They are relationships that fundamentally shape the possibilities for workers in the labour regime.
This paper is based on over 40 interviews conducted with migrant fishery workers, family members, manning agencies, and other key informants in Manila and on the island of Cebu in the Philippines. The argument draws upon this material to examine the role of home, family and household in the deployment of migrant fishermen. This role is enacted in various ways. It is usually immediate and extended family members who: connect new migrants to employment opportunities; advise recruits on the intricacies of the training and deployment process; lend the funds needed to undertake a long-distance deployment; and transport and/or accommodate migrants as they seek a placement on a vessel. Once aboard, responsibilities and commitments to family members back home shape the nature of the engagement of migrant crew members with the labour process; homesickness frames their experience of life at sea; their plans for investments and future livelihoods make repeated contracts palatable; and, their dreams of a future for their children add a temporality that exceeds the hardships of the moment. In these and other ways, the sphere of the home and the family is indivisible from the disciplinary mechanisms of the labour regime in fishing, even when the work may be carried out, quite literally, on the other side of the world.