Ex-crewmen out to help fellow fishing victims
Fishing union hopes to aid those suffering similar abuse
Back in 2014, the rescue of Thai and migrant labourers who fell prey to human trafficking in the fishery industry in Indonesia made headlines across the country after the operation was achieved with a concerted effort from the governments of both nations.
Besides state authorities, it is known that NGO labour advocacy groups, including the Thai-based Labour Rights Promotion Network (LPN), also played a pivotal role in liberating those ill-fated workers from slavery off the islands of Ambon, Tuan and Benjina.
As a result, the Thai and Migrant Fishers Union Group (TMFG), was later set up by more than 100 rescued victims who said they did not want to see their compatriots go through the same ordeal.
They have carried out a slew of constructive activities to improve the livelihoods of migrant labourers over the past three years. The group has helped demand justice for labourers whose employers fail to comply with labour rights by providing legal advice, labour protection and job recruitment.
Speaking at a forum on anti-human trafficking efforts and national reform at Chulalongkorn University, Chairat Ratchapaksi, a Phetchaburi man who was among those forced to work off the Indonesian islands, said that after that nightmare experience, he and other migrants from Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia, had joined hands to assist their fellows under the TMFG banner.
He said the union was focused on the plight of migrant labourers who often bear the brunt of forced labour and human trafficking.
A number of them were duped by job recruiters who sold them to foreign employers. Their travel documents and work permits were often forged and their passports were confiscated after the boats set sail.
"We are humans and labourers who must be granted basic rights from the state including benefits and protection," Mr Chairat said.
After being rescued, the former fisherman said he felt reborn and pledged to put all his efforts into helping his peers as he believed human trafficking remained a huge problem in the industry.
As a mouthpiece for the workers, he now strives for all aspects of basic rights for them, including wages and compensation for work-related injury or illness, he added.
Win Za Tun, a Myanmar national who worked on an Indonesian fishing boat for six years, also shared his miserable experience, saying he had to work continuously for 20 hours per day on board in exchange for a 100-baht daily wage.
Moreover, his employer also failed to pay him on time. If he demanded his wages, the employer would threaten to shoot him.
Mr Win Za Tun said he was always scolded during work, and no health insurance or even medicine for small illnesses was provided.
"They [employers] did with us as they pleased," he said.
Throughout those six years at sea, Mr Win Za Tun said he was unable to change his employer or escape because the boat's captain was familiar with both state authorities and other vessels' owners.
After the rescue operation, he decided to work as a volunteer translator and interpreter for the LPN and TMFG to help stop his compatriots from facing the same intimidation and threats of violence that he had endured.
He has visited schools, factories and courts and presented at various seminars, as well using social media, to pass on information to the public.
Mr Win Za Tun's name is on the list of Myanmar translators certified by the Foreign Ministry.
Also Tun Lin, an ex-crew member from Myanmar who lost his four fingers during work on board, said he did not want others to experience similar misfortune.
Today, he works as a volunteer translator for the networks as well.
Commenting on the issue, LPN founder and director Sompong Srakaew said although state agencies would intensify efforts to campaign against human trafficking, the problem persists unabated due to orthodox operational approaches.
Thicha Nanakorn, a well known human rights advocate, said it was necessary to learn from victims in order to understand the problem, adding they should be encouraged to become part of the mechanism to address the issue.