A newly created independent network was launched on Wednesday in Thailand to combat the abuse and exploitation of fishermen, most of whom are Cambodian and Myanmar migrants.
The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), which launched the Fishers’ Rights Network (FRN), said that it had the support of 37 unions and federations in the region, the US, the UK and Australia.
An announcement obtained by The Post said the FRN is building its organisation capacity and alliances with industry stakeholders across the country and around the world.
“FRN has vowed to campaign until the fundamental labour rights of all fishermen in Thailand, including the right to form, join and be active in their union, are respected,” the announcement read.
It added that the FRN will fight to improve wages, conditions, and ensure the rights of all fishermen in the industry are respected.
Johnny Hansen, chair of the ITF Fisheries Section, said in a press release that the FRN’s launching showed fishermen are beginning to stand up for their labour and human rights.
ITF said it had been working on the ground with hundreds of migrant fishermen from Cambodia and Myanmar.
It found a pervasive use of trafficked, forced and bonded labour in the Thai fishing industry, and dangerous working conditions, long hours and a lack of legal protection for them.
These, it said, had been well reported and publicised, with many in the international community condemning the fishermen’s treatment. However, the conditions have slightly improved due to global pressure and Thai labour law reforms.
“This exploitation has been exposed for years. The EU and US governments have both denounced and penalised the Thai government for its repeated failure to stamp out illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing,” the ITF said.
Hansen said that the widespread exploitation of fishermen and the conditions they are forced to endure are “inhumane” compared to international labour standards.
Thailand’s government received a “yellow card” from the European Union (EU) for abusing the rights of fishermen and workers in the seafood industry.
If it fails to sufficiently improve the industry, the country will receive a red card, resulting in the prohibition of seafood exports to the EU.
The FRN is demanding an increase in wages and improvements to the working conditions of all fishermen in the Thai fishing industry. It is also seeking “the elimination of passport, pink card, work permit, agent, broker and recruitment fees”.
The president of the Building and Wood Workers Trade Union Federation of Cambodia (BWTUC), Sok Kin, who supports the FRN, said it already has a network and will make reports for intervention when fishermen experience abuse and exploitation by employers.
“The employers do not respect their rights and also restrict the freedom of expression of fishermen by not allowing them to make a complaint to the authorities. FRN will help with legal support, including the provision of lawyers,” he said.
Luke Menzies, manager of media and communications for ITF Asia Pacific, said there are “approximately 600,000 fishermen in Thailand”, with the “migrants predominantly from Cambodia and Myanmar”.