Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged the European Union (EU) to renew efforts to eliminate forced labour and other abusive treatment within the Thai fishing industry, noting that a large number of workers were from Cambodia and Myanmar.
In a letter to EU officials, dated July 5 but published on Monday, HRW claimed that migrant workers were still falling into debt bondage within the commercial fishing sector.
Delayed payment and salaries below the minimum wage were two issues highlighted in the document.
Its statement said HRW found that “captains compelled predominantly Burmese [Myanmar] and Cambodian fishing workers to work overtime beyond those set out in law . . . [owners] frequently paid fishing workers once every six months – or in some cases once a year at subminimum wages”.
The report said ATM cards and bank books were frequently taken by bosses in order to thwart Thai reforms requiring monthly direct deposits.
HRW regional director for Asia Brad Adams said: “The Thai government’s reforms in the fishing industry still fall far short of resolving serious labour rights abuses . . . the EU should use its leverage as a major seafood importer to demand changes to the lives of migrant fishing workers on Thai vessels.”
Government spokesman Phay Siphan, said the state was paying attention to Cambodian workers in Thailand, citing a memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed previously regarding the issue.
“We signed the MoU with the Thai government and also with the Thai fisheries association,” Sophan said.
“Cambodia is working with the Thai government . . . to help our legal and illegal fishermen,” he said, adding that the Kingdom is pushing to give undocumented workers the help they need to get the right papers.
A statement in May from the International Transport Workers’ Federation, which launched the Fishers’ Rights Network, said there were “approximately 600,000 fishermen in Thailand”, predominantly from Cambodia and Myanmar.