Groups Urge Thailand to Step Up Action to Protect Foreign Fishermen

Nontarat Phaicharoen and Mariyam Ahmad
Bangkok and Pattani, Thailand
2021-06-29
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Groups Urge Thailand to Step Up Action to Protect Foreign Fishermen Migrant workers sort fish and seafood unloaded from a fishing ship at a port in Samut Sakhon province, Thailand, Jan. 22, 2018.
Reuters

Advocacy groups representing foreign workers in Thailand’s seafood industry called on the government Tuesday to ensure that employment contracts are made transparent, and to act to prevent workplace exploitation or abuses aboard Thai-owned fishing boats.

A new survey by the Fishers’ Rights Network found that about nine out of 10 foreign migrants working on fishing boats in Thailand had not had their contract translated or explained in a language they can understand. Tens of thousands of migrants from neighboring countries, including Myanmar and Cambodia, work in Thailand’s fishing sector.

At an online news conference where survey results were presented, the network and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) urged Bangkok to do much more to implement Convention No. 188 (C188) of the International Labor Organization. The convention, which came into force in November 2017, aims to shield employees in the seafood industry from abuses or exploitation.

“Number one, we would like to call on the Royal Thai Government to effectively enforce C188 and ensure that all fishers have a copy of their contracts in their own language,” Jon Hartough, the Thailand project lead at the federation, told reporters.

In addition, all port-in, port-out centers in the country “should allow fishers to review and verify the contracts presented by employers at inspection, and report violations in a safe and protected space,” he said.

“And finally, fishers are demanding that Thai authorities enforce employment contracts provisions and protect migrant fishers’ rights.”

Paper-thin

Thailand, in January 2019, was the first country in Southeast Asia to ratify the convention, which sets out binding requirements to protect the labor rights of people who work on fishing boats, and to address issues they face in the workplace.

Ye Thwe, the president of the Fishers’ Rights Network who used to work as a foreign migrant in the Thai fishing sector, also urged the government to step up enforcement of the ILO convention.

“Thailand has ratified C188 … but Burmese and Khmer fishers still face serious issues such as wage theft, lack of adequate food or clean drinking water on board, debt bondage, document retention and other labor abuses,” he said. “The Thai Government commitments are as thin as the paper they’re written on.”

Labor violations are still rampant, with contracts not being followed properly, he said.

“We hear often that fishers are not paid for months at a time, face dangerous conditions onboard and are not even sure of their actual salary or other provisions listed in the contract because it’s not in their own language,” Ye Thwe said.

In 2019, some 60,000 workers from Cambodia and Myanmar were employed on Thai fishing boats, according to the Department of Fisheries.

Among the results, the survey of 520 migrant fishers working in eight Thai provinces found that 87 percent did not have a copy of their employment contract, and 89 percent had not had their contract translated or explained in a language they can understand.

Front-line workers

Current Thai labor law and labor inspections do not meet the standards outlined in the ILO convention, said Johnny Hansen, chair of the Fisheries Section at the ITF.

“[T]he results presented today clearly show that significant action is urgently needed to fully protect the labor and human rights of migrant fishers in Thailand,” Hansen said.

“Fishers are on the front line of the global seafood supply chain and more and more consumers are demanding that the products they purchase are truly free from labor abuse or exploitation.”

BenarNews asked Mesak Pakdeekong, director-general of the Department of Fisheries, to comment on the call by the labor-rights advocacy groups for more governmental action in enforcing the provisions of Convention 188.

“We would definitely solve the problems but by which approach, we have to see the actual set of information. We will fix them, but let us study the details first,” he said, referring to the survey by the Fishers’ Rights Network.

Meanwhile in Pattani, a province in Thailand’s Deep South where commercial fishing is a major industry, the owner of a local fishing fleet said his business complied with the law and government regulations.  

 “The contracts with migrant workers contain their native languages, salary and were signed in front of officials. We can’t hide the contract,” fleet owner Surat Ratanasithorn told BenarNews.

 

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