Press Release : Thailand’s Response to the Comments of Human Rights Watch on the Protection of Labour in Fisheries Sector

        With regard to the Human Right Watch (HRW)’s open letter to the Royal Thai Government concerning labour reforms in the Thai fisheries industry, dated 13 April 2018, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Thailand would like to thank the HRW for closely monitoring the labour situation in Thai fisheries sector and acknowledging the efforts of the Thai Government in providing labour protection measures in various aspects. As a result of the efforts, the overall situation of workers in the fisheries sector of Thailand over the past 3 years has drastically improved. Nevertheless, the Thai Government continues to pay close attention and try its utmost to increase the effectiveness of enforcement of those measures to ensure that workers in the fisheries sector receive full legal rights and protections. The progress on the issues highlighted by the HRW is as follows:
          1. On law enforcement: from 2015 to March 2018, Thai authorities have prosecuted 87 cases of human trafficking in the fisheries sector and 503 cases of labour rights violation, accounted for 11 percent of all inspections carried out of fishing vessels and seafood processing establishments. In the events that the labour inspectors found cases of child labour under 18 years old, forced labour, debt bondage or human trafficking for labour exploitation, such cases must be reported to the police immediately. Most recently, Thailand has set up special arrest teams for fishing-related crimes at sea. From the operation during 11 to 22 March 2018, the teams arrested both Thai and non-Thai vessels for violations of the fisheries laws and the labour laws, resulting in 50 cases. All cases were prosecuted in both criminal courts and via administrative sanctions.
           2. On labour inspections: the Ministry of Labour of Thailand together with the International Labor Organization (ILO) jointly developed a labour inspection manual for inspection at sea, ports and seafood processing establishments. The manual is used by the labour inspectors in every step of the inspection which resulted in an increase in a number of arrests. In addition, the number of inspectors at the Port-in Port-out (PIPO) Centers will be doubled. Other inspection measures have also been put in place, including, checking of individual identification using retinal scanning method; inspections of employment documents, pay slips, work permits, passports, Non-Thai nationality identification (pink card); as well as conducting interviews with every migrant worker in fishing vessels considered as risk group by using pre-screening forms. The interviews were conducted with interpreters without the presence of the vessels owner, captain or foremen. From 46,269 migrant workers in the fisheries sector interviewed at the PIPO Centers in 22 coastal provinces in 2016, 3,222 workers were found to not have been treated in accordance with the labour protection law and legal actions were taken against
the employers.
                In addition, the Ministry of Labour of Thailand together with the ILO have regularly arranged training courses for labour inspectors and officials at the PIPO centers as well as carried out capacity building programmes with the ILO under “Ship to Shore Rights” project for enhancing labour protection among officials and NGOs such as Stella Maris and the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF)
in Thailand.
           3. On awareness raising: the Ministry of Labour of Thailand has regularly published and distributed information on workers’ rights protection measures and regulations, including its complaint channels via online media, newspapers, television, magazines, brochures, leaflets, and other documents in the migrant workers’ own languages. The effort allowed migrant workers, especially in the fisheries sector, to have access to information and better understanding about their legal rights according to labour protection law. In the year 2017, this method reached the target group of 12,371,025 workers, an increase of 94 times in comparison to 130,400 workers in 2016.
           4. Complaint channels: Thailand has developed efficient labour complaint channels. Hotlines services accessible to migrant workers have been set up and operated by both public sector and NGOs which are available in Myanmar, Cambodian and English languages. Once the complaint is received, it will be sent to labour inspector to verify the establishment in question. To protect the complained employee from retaliation, the labour inspection will be conducted without informing the employer of the complainer or employee details. In cases of complaints from labour in fishing vessels, the complaints will be sent to the PIPOs centers and the special arrest teams for fishing-related crimes at sea for in-depth investigation without giving details on the ones who lodged the complaint.
           5. Ratification of relevant ILO Conventions: Thailand aims to improve its labour protection standard to be in line with the international standards. Currently, Thailand is drafting the Prevention and Suppression of Forced Labour Act B.E. … and the Work in Fishing Act B.E. … with the aim to ratify the Protocol to the Forced Labour Convention (P29) and the Work in Fishing Convention (C188). The amendment of Labour Relations Act is also underway as a foundation for the ratification of the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention (C98). All are scheduled to be finished by 2018.
          In the drafting process of the aforementioned laws, several rounds of public hearings and meetings with all stakeholders were held. The ILO and relevant NGOs, such as the EJF and HRW, were also invited to provide comments and recommendations on both draft legislations. The Ministry of Labour of Thailand has taken those recommendations and comments into consideration and incorporated them into the drafted laws to ensure that such laws would be in compliance with relevant ILO conventions before proposing to the Cabinet and the National Assembly for further consideration.
          The Thai government reiterates its commitment to continue to address the issue of labour in the fisheries sector. The mechanism for the effective protection of the migrant workers’ rights will continue to be improved and fine-tuned. The Thai Government stands ready to welcome suggestions and comments from all parties so that the Thai fishery industry can attain sustainability and be in accordance with the human rights principles.