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Strike at seafood giant

Strike at seafood giant

About 800 Cambodian workers in Thailand went on strike yesterday against a major global seafood exporter they accuse of exploiting them.

The factory, which has been identified by workers and rights groups as Phatthana Seafood Co Ltd in Thailand’s Songkhla province, allegedly scrapped a 20 baht (US$0.64) daily food allowance after the provincial minimum wage raised from 176 to 246 baht on April 1.

Strike representative Sok Sorng said yesterday workers were also demanding a 20 baht daily hard-work bonus that the company had withdrawn.

He said workers were demanding that both the 20 baht bonuses be paid to bring their salary up to 286 baht per day.

He vowed to continue the strike today if they weren’t.

“The company gave us only 246 baht per day. There is no serious pressure, but when workers are sick [the company] does not really take care,” he said.

They had been joined by migrant workers from Myanmar who were also employed by the factory and like them, had been made to hand over their passports, he said, adding that people could request to get them back.

Phatthana Seafood, a member of the PTN Group, is a major seafood exporter to the United States, Asia, Europe and Australia that also deals in cold storage services, car sales, agriculture, construction and international trade, their website states.

Attempts to contact Phatthana Seafood yesterday were unsuccessful.  

Moeun Tola, head of the labour programme at the Cambodian Legal Education Centre, said about 70 per cent of the factory’s roughly 2,000 workers were Cambodians facing multiple forms of exploitation.

“[There are] two ‘handcuffs’ for them which prevent them from moving anywhere. One is debt bondage; every worker there has their salary reduced,” he said, referring to claims that the company was docking their pay for previously undisclosed living expenses. “The second is the passport is kept by the company.”

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said those companies that were sourcing products from Phatthana Seafood, one of which was believed to be Walmart, needed to investigate the company’s labour practices.

“You know it seems to me that there are some very serious problems related to labour law compliance in that factory,” he said.

“There is also a human rights issue that may tilt this towards a human trafficking issue which is that the company is withholding passports, which is blatantly illegal.”

In January the Post reported that 37-year-old Keo Ratha alleged that he had been threatened by CDM Trading Manpower, the Cambodian company that sent the workers to the factory, for speaking out about exploitation.

He told the Post their salaries had been docked for living expenses and fees related to passports that were never mentioned in their contracts.

CDM Trading Manpower director Duong Saran could not be reached for comment yesterday.

“CDM needs to be looked at as well. Their role in this has to be fully examined. This is a challenge to the Cambodian regulatory authorities,” Robertson said.

Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, could not be reached yesterday.

Andy Hall, foreign expert at Mahidol University’s Institute of Population and Social Research in Bangkok, said the case was indicative of weak protections and regulation mechanisms for the many migrant workers in Thailand.

“It just shows that there need to be urgent modifications to the system of sending workers from Myanmar and Cambodia,” he said.  “These guys came in legally . . . it shows the systematic nature of abuse.”

Thai Vice-Minister of Labour Anusorn Kraiwatnussorn said he had sent staff to Songkhla to investigate the issue.

To contact the reporters on this story: David Boyle at [email protected]
Meas Sokchea at [email protected]

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