Cambodian and Myanmar fishermen in Thailand are often paid below the minimum wage, see their payment withheld and face abuses, according to a new International Labour Organisation study.
For the baseline study Ship to Shore Rights the ILO interviewed 434 mostly Myanmar and Cambodian fishermen and workers in the seafood industry to assess their working conditions. They focused only on short-term trawlers.
But even on short-term boats operating in the fishing sector – which is dominated by Cambodian migrants – 48 percent of respondents showed two or more indicators of forced labour. Only 29 percent reported no such indicators, which include abusive working conditions, intimidation, retention of identity documents or wage withholding.
Wage withholding, notably, increased from 12 percent in 2013 to 24 percent in 2017.
Mom Sokchar, director of Legal Support for Children and Women, said wage withholding was a major issue in the fishing industry, and had happened to many returnees his organisation worked with. “The way to pay wages is you have to work for six months, one year or two years, and then you get the wages,” he said.
Chou Chan Kongkea, a 29-year-old Cambodian who worked in Thailand as a fisherman for more than 10 years before returning to his home country in 2015, said he had only received his salary once a year.
“I worked from 6 in the morning until 9 at night, and sometimes I even worked 24 hours if it was fishing season, or the nets were damaged and I needed to repair and fix them,” he said. “All of us worked every day and we didn’t have a day off.”
“In those 10 years, I’ve never seen any inspector visit us and check our working conditions, I only saw Thai authorities check whether we’re documented while we work in Thailand,” he added.
According to Sokchar, once the fishing boats returned, migrants were often arrested when police found they were not documented. These migrants never received their salary, he added. Others saw their wages significantly deducted upon returning to shore.
Moreover, only 41 percent of fishers reported having access to a proper toilet.
The study also found a pay gap between men and women, with men on average earning 9,850 baht (about $314) a month, and women receiving only
9,010 THB (about $288). Thailand’s minimum wage amounts to 9,000 baht (about $287) a month, but 27 percent of men reported receiving less, as did a whopping 52 percent of women.
Thailand’s government over the past years has stepped up its efforts to combat Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing in response to a “yellow card” it received from the European Union, which put its exports to the union under higher scrutiny. EU sources yesterday said a technical mission by EU experts would visit Thailand in April to assess progress.
But for all the problems associated with short-term trawlers, LSCW’s Sokchar said conditions were drastically worse on long-term trawlers fishing in the deep sea.
“The fishermen we worked with told me they don’t have clean water, or enough food to eat, and often get physical punishment or even torture,” Sokchar said. “It’s a lot more difficult on those boats than on short-term boats.”
Additional reporting by Yon Sineat