Environmentalists insist fishermen are specially vulnerable to human traffic and labour abuse. (Photo: Human Rights Watch)
NGOs urge Thai Govt to strengthen efforts to eliminate labour abuse from fishing industry
Tuesday, August 21, 2018, 21:30 (GMT + 9)
A total of 28 NGOs have signed a statement pointing out that the Thai government must not yield to attempts by the National Fishing Association of Thailand (NFAT) to derail the ratification of the international Work in Fishing Convention, which protects fishers from human rights abuses.
According to one of these environmental organisations, the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), through the very nature of their work, fishers are especially vulnerable to human trafficking as well as forced, bonded and slave labour, operating as they do in isolated and hazardous conditions.
EJF highlights that to protect this vulnerable group, the International Labour Organization (ILO) has established basic standards of decent work in the fishing industry.
The NGO states that ratifying the ILO’s Work in Fishing Convention would prevent workers from being exploited by unscrupulous employers who engage in forced labour and debt bondage, pay below minimum wage, and refuse to ensure overtime is voluntary and compensated – all issues which have plagued the Thai fishing industry.
EJF informs that the Thai government has already made strong moves towards ratifying the convention, holding meetings and public hearings on the topic, but, the NGO points out that it has recently come under pressure from the NFAT to drop it.
“We commend the Thai government’s commitment to this process so far and urge it to ratify the agreement by the end of 2018. This convention is one of the most tangible measures available to preserve and elevate workers’ rights and would demonstrate Thailand’s leadership in combatting labour abuse and exploitation in its fishing industry,” says EJF Steve Trent, one of the statement’s signatories.
The NGOs say that efforts to reject the convention by NFAT are sadly unsurprising given it has reneged on previous promises to cooperate with the government to eliminate human and labour rights abuses in the fishing industry.
The statement says that NFAT’s continuing demand for exemptions to the child labour laws, for instance, which prevent anyone under 18 from working in the fishing industry, demonstrates shocking disregard for human rights and the safety of children.
The NGOs highlight that as well as providing crucial protection for fishers aboard Thai vessels, ratifying the convention could also solve the labour shortage in the Thai fishing industry.
The environmental organisations state that currently, many countries which might provide a source of migrant fishers are reluctant to enter formal agreements with Thailand over the flow of workers because of Thailand’s reputation for serious and pervasive labour rights abuses. Together with the adoption of other key ILO measures such as those guaranteeing freedom of association and collective bargaining, ratifying the Work in Fisheries convention would show that Thailand is committed to treating its workforce well.
In their view, these measures would also send a credible and powerful message to the international community, including seafood buyers, that Thailand is firmly committed to eliminating human trafficking, forced labour and other forms of exploitation from its fishing industry.
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