Safety net failing migrant fishermen
Special Report: Industry still teeming with dangers despite success of reforms that saw EU warning lifted
While the European Union (EU)'s decision to lift the yellow-card warning on illegal, unreported and unregistered (IUU) fishing indicates progress in the country's efforts to clean up the industry, migrant workers in the Thai seafood supply chain still face unfair employment practices.
This ongoing injustice was highlighted at a recent seminar organised by the Coalition for Sustainable and Ethical Seafood, which assessed the situation of migrant workers in the seafood industry following the EU's move.
Nattaya Petcharat, a representative of the Stella Maris Seafarers Centre Songkhla, said the centre still receives reports about accidents on fishing vessels, including instances of crew members falling overboard, adding that improving safety and working conditions on fishing boats is an urgent matter.
Oxfam campaign coordinator Chakchai Chomthongdee said crew members sometimes get no safety-equipment training before boarding boats, which makes their already hazardous work more dangerous.
He said it is the duty of authorities to ensure fishing crews understand how to operate the machinery safely.
Somboon Traisilanant, deputy director-general of the Social Welfare and Labour Protection Department, said random inspections by his department showed a significant reduction in forced labour in the fishing industry following tighter enforcement of the anti-human trafficking law.
He admitted, however, that safety on fishing trawlers is still a challenge since many workers are not properly trained to handle the tools and some cannot swim.
The department would organise training in safety and first aid for owners and skippers of fishing boats so they can train their crew, he added.
Regarding workers' rights, representatives from three key players in the seafood processing industry have agreed that welfare committees, which are required under the Labour Protection Act, are a promising mechanism to promote better communication and protection of migrant workers' rights.
Under the law, businesses with at least 50 employees are required to set up a welfare committee comprising at least five employees to oversee and review the employee benefit and welfare schemes. The committee is also required to meet at least once every three months.
Benjaporn Chawalitanont, a representative from Seafresh Industry Plc, said the committee is the most popular way for employees to lodge their complaints.
She said it took some effort to encourage migrant workers to join her company's welfare committee, which can inform employees of their rights.
Pakprink Boonlom, a representative from Charoen Pokphand Foods (CPF), said her company would place an additional employee representative on the welfare committee for every 400 workers.
She said CPF also has four sub-committees -- on gender, religion, ethnicity and nationality, and disabilities -- via which workers could voice their complaints to the welfare committee.
Patcharin Harncharoen of the Department of Employment noted that the 2018 Decree Concerning the Management of Foreign Workers' Employment is a legal tool to help ensure fair recruitment practice and to safeguard migrant workers' interests.
Under the decree, employers are required to shoulder the costs of recruiting migrant workers, such as fees for travel documents, she said. Moreover, random interviews with migrant workers applying for work permits are also conducted by provincial authorities to screen for victims of human trafficking, she added.