Achieving 'decent work' in Thailand's fishing industry

Achieving 'decent work' in Thailand's fishing industry

Decent Work Day today is celebrated around the world to draw attention again to the need for work that is productive, that delivers a fair income and equally importantly work in which the protection of labour rights is a fundamental and irreplaceable element of national policies and strategies. The new Global Estimates of Modern Slavery report released by the International Labour Organisation indicates that 24.9 million workers in 2016 were in modern slavery. One in 10 was working in the fishing and agriculture industries.

The global attention to forced labour in the Thai fishing and seafood industry has helped to produce some important changes in the last two years. The ILO's Ship to Shore Rights Project (funded by the European Union) is supporting the Thai government, employers, and workers' organisations to make the necessary changes -- stronger laws including protections against forced labour, more effective labour law enforcement, organising migrant workers and protecting their rights, and advancing with measurable progress in good labour practices on board Thai fishing boats and in seafood processing plants.

With so much at stake for workers, employers, regulators, and international buyers of Thai seafood, tracking real progress toward Decent Work in the industry is important. New ILO research undertaken in Thailand shows some progress -- more workers have written contracts in 2017 than a few years ago, and child labour in fishing is rare -- and some persistent abuses. For example, one third of workers in Thai fishing and seafood report being paid less than the minimum wage. One quarter of fishers report that some of their pay is withheld from them for months. And 52% of fishers report that they take advances or loans against their salary from their employers, mainly to repay recruitment fees.

These last two measures are especially important. Withholding wages from workers is one of the ILO's indicators of forced labour. And debts owed by workers to their employers can turn into debt bondage. A new order from the government in May 2017 requires the Ministry of Labour to detain fishing vessels that violate Thai labour law -- including pay violations. Officials in a few ports have begun to use this power but the new effort needs momentum to make a dent in the problem.

More momentum in the Decent Work direction is what's needed. Decent work means security in the workplace, social protection for families, better prospects for social integration, and freedom for people to express their concerns, organise and participate in the decisions that affect their lives. It also means equal opportunity and treatment for all women and men.

These are things we all aspire to have. But not all work is Decent Work and achieving it is a focus of the UN's Sustainable Development Goal No.8. Forced labour is the antithesis of Decent Work, and many Thai seafood buyers now look for Decent Work in their supply chains. As Thai seafood suppliers plan for the future they see that staying competitive in this global industry means more than low prices and high quality. It also means Decent Work.

Jason Judd is ILO Ship to Shore Rights Project, ILO Thailand Country Office.

Jason Judd

ILO Ship to Shore Rights Project, ILO Thailand Country Office

Jason Judd is ILO Ship to Shore Rights Project, ILO Thailand Country Office.

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