Thai fishing reforms netting some changes

Some abuse remains:Migrant workers unloading frozen fish from a boat at a fish market in Samut Sakhon province, west of Bangkok, in this file picture. — AP

Some abuse remains:Migrant workers unloading frozen fish from a boat at a fish market in Samut Sakhon province, west of Bangkok, in this file picture. — AP

BANGKOK: Thailand’s fishing and seafood industry has made some improvement in working conditions, including less physical violence, but problems such as unfair pay and deception in contracting persist, a survey conducted by the UN’s International Labour Organi­sation found.

The European Union in 2015 gave Thailand a “yellow card” on its fishing exports, warning that it could face a ban on EU sales if it didn’t reform the industry. Thailand’s military government responded by introducing new regulations and setting up a command centre to fight illegal fishing.

The ILO report on “Ship to Shore Rights” released on Wednesday recommends the Thai government strengthen its legal framework, ensure effective enforcement, establish higher industry standards and enhance workers’ skills, knowledge and welfare.

“We want competitiveness in the global seafood trade to mean more than low prices and high quality,” Graeme Buckley, ILO country director for Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos, said at a news conference.

“We want it to mean decent work for all the industry’s workers, from the boat to the retailer.”

An investigation in 2015-16 that uncovered severe rights abuses affecting migrant workers in Thailand’s fishing and seafood industries helped focus attention on the problem. The stories helped free more than 2,000 enslaved men from Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos, and led to more than a dozen arrests, amended US laws and lawsuits seeking redress.

The ILO said changes in Thailand’s legal and regulatory framework had contributed to positive developments since the group’s last survey of workers in 2013.

It said only 6% of fishing boat workers in 2013 had a signed or written contract with their employers, but a study undertaken in 2017 found 43% of the respondents recalled signing a contract.

“Another possible sign of progress is the type of abuses reported,” said the ILO.

“Although 12% of all workers surveyed this year reported harassment or verbal abuse and 7% faced threats of violence at work, reports of physical violence were relatively few, at 2% of all workers surveyed.”

The 2015 investigation had documented multiple cases of physical abuse and depravity.

The apparent gains for workers in the industry were offset somewhat by persistent abuses noted by the ILO.

“One third of workers reported being paid less than the legal minimum wage, before any deductions were made,” the report said. “

As many as 53% of respondents cited deductions made to their monthly earnings.”

The ILO surveyed 434 workers in 11 Thai provinces in March-April 2017.

The report said 125 Cambodians, 287 Burmese and 22 Thai nationals who worked either on fishing boats or in seafood packaging factories took part in the research.

It warned, however, that the survey results were not representative of Thailand’s entire fishing and seafood processing industry.

The survey, in particular, did not include workers on long-haul boats, which fish in international waters and where abuses are more likely to occur.

Those boats do not return to port as often, which the ILO said made interviewing those workers difficult. It interviewed only workers on short-haul fishing boats, those at sea less than 30 days at a time. — AP