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Thai berry pickers in Sweden: A migration corridor to a low-wage sector
Stockholm University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Human Geography.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-0969-1333
2019 (English)Report (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Every year, around 5000 berry pickers travel from Thailand to Sweden to pick wild berries. This report describes the system and regulatory framework that surrounds the berry pickers, and analyses their costs and earnings. The report has a comparative approach, and compares the Thai berry pickers with other types of international labour migration and with their alternative earnings in Thailand. It also describes the workers demographic background and their use of the earnings from berry picking. The report is uniquely based on 165 standardized interviews with Thai berry pickers, which were performed in Thailand on behalf of this study. 

The main conclusion is that the costs surrounding berry picking are relatively high, as seen against the background of the short berry picking season and the time that the workers are spending in Sweden. On average, a berry picker pays around 4000 USD to work in Sweden for a period of 70 days. This means that, for the average worker, it takes 1,6 months to earn enough money to cover these costs, and thereafter remains only a limited time window to earn enough money to bring back to Thailand. Around 50 percent of the costs incurred are paid to Thai staffing agencies, and the other half is paid to Swedish berry companies as a daily fee for accommodation, food and access to a car. After the deduction of all costs, the average berry picker returns to Thailand with around 2000 USD from one season in Sweden. This figure is roughly three times that of what the average worker would normally earn in Thailand during the same amount of time. The worker with the highest net earnings from berry picking in Sweden, however, could make as much as 12 times more than what he or she would make in Thailand. The report also shows that the berry pickers, who often are men working as farmers in north-eastern Thailand where they also have their families, are travelling to Sweden repeatedly. A majority of the workers in the study had travelled to Sweden seven times or more, whereas the most frequent worker had travelled as much as 26 times. According to the study, there is no positive relationship between the frequency of work in Sweden and the size of the earnings. The earnings from berry picking are being used for daily consumption and investments in farming, housing and children’s’ education. 

In the report we discuss the motives behind the perpetuation of the migration system despite the relatively high costs. One explanation could be that the workers are being paid on a piece rate, meaning that they are aspiring, and believing that they can achieve, the same high earnings as the most successful workers. However, the payment system also implies that the workers are at high risk, since almost 50 percent note that they have earned less than the guaranteed wage that they are entitled to according to Swedish collective agreements. Another reason why berry pickers travel to Sweden repeatedly could be that it’s associated with relatively low social costs. The berry season in Sweden occurs at a suitable time in the Thai growing season, and the berry pickers are spending a relatively short time away from their families.

The system surrounding berry picking can be seen both as it’s solution and it’s problem. On the one hand, Thai staffing agencies and Swedish berry companies are providing the infrastructure that sustains the system across time, thus enabling the workers to invest in their children’s futures, etc. On the other hand, the report shows a lack of transparency in relation to the costs, which might be excessive, while the costs and risks are put on the individual worker. The practice of using staffing agencies has been enacted as a way to avoid taxes and social responsibility in Sweden. As an alternative, it is possible that experienced berry pickers could use their own social networks to travel to Sweden, while starting up a cooperative and in that way, reduce the costs.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Delegationen för migrationsstudier , 2019. , p. 100
Series
Delmi report ; 2019:3
National Category
Human Geography
Research subject
Human Geography
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-169398ISBN: 978-91-88021-38-0 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-169398DiVA, id: diva2:1320516
Available from: 2019-06-05 Created: 2019-06-05 Last updated: 2019-08-15Bibliographically approved

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