Labor inspectors get more tools to tackle fishing violators

Thailand’s government has given its labor inspectors more legal tools to tackle lawbreakers and abusive employers in the fishing the seafood industries, as a Thai labor rights defender received a prestigious award last week by a global foundation dedicated to protecting the oceans.

The government issued a new regulation that mandates labor inspectors in 22 coastal provinces inspect all fisheries and seafood processing factories in their jurisdictions, and also conduct inspections of vessels and workers at ports and at sea. The Ministerial Regulation on Labor Protection in Sea Fishing Work B.E. 2561 is being implemented as a prelude to Thailand ratifying an important International Labor Organization (ILO) convention on fishing work.

If inspectors find serious violations, they have the power to refer cases to legal authorities for criminal prosecutions, according to the Ministry of Labor. Violations worthy of criminal proceedings include human trafficking, child labor, and other serious abuses. Repeat offenders for lesser violations also risk being criminally charged.

The new regulation “will also enhance the effectiveness of labor protection within the fishery sector, and enable more speedy prosecution of any offenses, thus laying a firm foundation for Thailand’s readiness before ratification of the International Labor Organization’s Work in Fishing Convention” later this year, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

Since 2015, Thailand has been waging a concerted campaign to end abuses and malpractice in its fishing and seafood industries including illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing. As part of its efforts, Thai authorities and seafood companies have been working with global organizations focusing on seafood sustainability and workers’ rights, and also collaborating with civil society activists and groups.

One of those activists, Patima Tungpuchayakul, was given the Seafood Champion Award for Advocacy last week by SeaWeb, a project of The Ocean Foundation, a Washington D.C.-based global group working to reverse the destruction of the world’s oceans.

Patima is a co-founder of the Labor Rights Promotion Network, which works to protect the rights of migrant and Thai workers in the fishing industry. “Her work is an example of the active role of the civil society, which contributes to the crucial partnership with the Royal Thai Government in fulfilling our national agenda to eliminate human trafficking and forced labor,’’ the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

SeaWeb also organizes the annual SeaWeb Seafood Sustainability Summit, which the organization says “brings together global representatives from the seafood industry with leaders from the conservation community, academia, government and the media,’’ to develop solutions to ocean and fisheries destruction.

SeaWeb has chosen Thailand to host the SeaWeb Seafood Sustainability Summit 2019 next June in Bangkok. “Thailand is ready to share the lessons it has learned … that could serve as a good model for sustainable fisheries for the region,’’ the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.