Treatment of fishery workers 'still needs to improve'

Treatment of fishery workers 'still needs to improve'

The treatment of workers in the Thai fishing and seafood industries is still some way from being acceptable though progress is being made, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and European Union (EU) reported in research published Wednesday.

"Ship To Shore Rights: Baseline research findings on fishers and seafood workers in Thailand", which surveyed 434 workers across a dozen provinces regarding wages, welfare and treatment, found ongoing challenges.

These included 34% of workers who reported being paid less than the minimum wage of 9,000 baht a month, a wide gender pay gap with 52% of women reporting being paid below the legal minimum, and 24% having their pay withheld by vessel owners, some for 12 months or more.

Evidence of progress included fewer reports of physical violence, few workers (less than 1%) under 18 years old, 43% reporting they have written contracts, and higher average real monthly wages (before deductions).

There continue to be conflicts in terms of payments for migrant workers but with a decline in physical abuse. Approximately a third of workers interviewed said their documents have been confiscated by the employers which is an important indicator of forced labour, the report said.

Director of the ILO Country Office for Thailand, Cambodia and Lao PDR, Graeme Buckley, said Thailand is currently at the forefront for promoting fair treatment of migrant workers in the region, with some major caveats.

"Although we have seen great improvements since our last research in 2013, there is still a lot to be done. We need the government to consider strengthening the law on forced labour and work in fishing," Mr Buckley said.

"We also need to set clear enforcement targets for labour inspectors and expand worker education campaigns on pay and labour protection," he added.

Secretary-general of the Thai Tuna Industry Association, Attapan Masrungson, said the welfare of migrant workers is improving dramatically. She was speaking on behalf of the private sector.

"After some consideration, it made a lot more sense for us to allow migrant workers to be part of the committee. The migrants organise proper elections to elect their representatives, and it has been successful in improving their quality of life," Ms Attapan said.

ILO Senior Technical Officer Jason Judd said the ILO and EU plan to launch a large-scale campaign to help form unions and civil society organisations which would expand the scope of care and help for migrant workers.

"Around 23% of the people we have surveyed told us they are already a part of some form of association that they can rely on for help, but the compelling factor is that 63% of interviewees showed interest in joining one," Mr Judd said.

He warned that the research is only a rough guideline, and people who read the report should not extrapolate too much regarding the actual conditions of workers in the fishing and seafood industry.

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