Department of Fisheries sails towards sustainable success on addressing labour situation
The Bangkok Post on 7 September 2016,
An exclusive interview with Dr. Adisorn Promthep, Director General of the Department of Fisheries, on the role and achievements of the Department in salvaging the labour situation in Thailand’s fishery industry.
Dr. Adisorn Promthep, Director General of the Department of Fisheries (DOF), Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, revealed an overview of workforce solutions in Thailand’s fishing industry.
“Several government agencies have been involved in various roles to solve labour problems in the fishery sector. Stopping human trafficking falls under the responsibility of the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security while the Ministry of Labour is in charge of the labour issues. As both affairs arise in the fishery sector, the DOF has to get involved. All agencies concerned jointly issued guidelines for Good Labour Practices, also known as GLP, to cover all activities in Thailand’s fishing industry.
Following issuance of the GLP guidelines, the DOF plays the lead role in provision of training courses for entrepreneurs and labour in the fishing industry. This year we have reached our target for GLP training workshops. Regarding labour on fishing vessels, the Department organised 11 GLP workshops for 858 commercial fishing vessel operators and shipmasters. Other GLP courses included five sessions for 250 employees from 120 seafood processing factories, 25 employers from 25 seafood primary processing sites, and ten sessions for 491 workers from shrimp farms.
As the United States has still ranked Thailand as a Tier 2 country on its watch list, we will continue with our counter measures. Thailand needs to be more organised and put more measures in place. However, this is a problem all over the world. It isn’t only in Thailand that there are labour and human trafficking problems. Hence implementing monitoring systems, surveillance and law enforcement are most important. We must do everything we can to sustain businesses and gain competitive advantage. If you ask if we will ease up on our measures, we will not. All concerned systems will continue to be regulated. Many laws and regulations have already been modified. Going forward, we also need to adjust rules governing our responses to situations that change all the time.
The Department of Fisheries has achieved a certain level of success. Relevant legal matters have been clarified and new legal provisions laid out. The fishing sector uses a lot of migrant workers. Thailand’s borders are fenceless. People from neighbouring countries can walk into our country to work illegally. Why do they come to work here? Because Thailand is prosperous. With high demand for migrant labour, you only have to come in and you will get a job for sure. Formerly, rules concerning migrants were unclear. Illegal workers risked being exploited. These things have existed for a long time even though the Thai government has put a lot of effort into regulating illegal migrants in the system. We have revised the rules to make them more flexible so that they can draw workers into conformity with the regulations. We have also provided an outline of the worker treatment scheme. Lawful migrant workers can make complaints and contact government offices and NGOs to seek help. They don’t have to evade the law. It is much better for them to get into the system.
These two-three million workers enjoy improved lives when they work in Thailand. They earn enough to send money to support their families in their native countries. This means Thailand is giving help to its neighbouring countries. In the future when they prosper more, labour mobility will change. With ASEAN merging, labour mobility is not a big deal anymore.
Media gives more attention to workers on fishing vessels than those in other industrial fields. The farther fishing boats sail the less chance the workers have to contact other people. Working on a fishing boat is very tough. Inexperienced hands may get sea sick. Boat crew numbers are limited. If one or two fall ill, the rest must work twice as hard. Despite the hard work, the rewards are good enough. This sector has an attractive remuneration system.
In terms of monitoring, we have numerous laws and regulations. We review all documents of the workforce on fishing vessels before a vessel departs. Formerly, employment was based on verbal agreements. Now it is made with a signed employment contract in a language that all parties comprehend. Workers know all the details and conditions of the agreement. Prior to departure, we inspect the number of workers, their names, their appearance, their IDs and employment contracts. On their return to port, we review them all again.
Arrival monitoring gives the workers an opportunity to meet official staff. They can report mishaps during the work on the vessel, if any. Inspection staff includes representatives from the Royal Thai Navy, the Royal Thai Police, the Ministry of Labour, the Marine Department, the Customs Department, and fisheries agencies. Ships are kept under surveillance by the Royal Thai Navy, the Marine Department, the Customs Department and the Department of Fisheries patrols the sea on a regular basis.
In terms of on-shore labour, the Department conducts regular reviews and inspections in many areas. Ministry of Labour and Ministry of Social Development and Human Security educate workers about their interests, regulations and labour laws that they should be aware of.
There is a hotline using workers’ native languages. I think every worker has a mobile phone, so they can make contact any time. All aspects of monitoring and protection of labourers is good enough. Employers who violate labour laws will be disciplined and receive severe punishment. Today, the operators wholeheartedly embrace the GLP guidelines. They see this as a benefit both to workers and their business. They understand that businesses that break the law exploit others and damage the overall business in the long run.
As our system is well organised, the problem of illegal migrants is reduced and their wellbeing is improved. The Department of Fisheries aims to see that migrant fishery workers are able to develop their potential and that labour exploitation is ultimately wiped out completely.”