Cambodia migrant workers seeking to leave allegedly exploitative conditions at the Phatthana Seafood factory in southern Thailand said yesterday that they were still being forced to pay to get their passports back.
The factory, which exports fish to buyers across the world including Walmart, has come under fire from its migrant employees, who have said they were tricked on pay conditions, while rights groups allege the workers are victims of human trafficking.
Since Cambodian workers at the factory, which also sources labour from Myanmar and Thailand, began a strike of about 800 people on Sunday, the workers had been allowed to leave but only if they paid to do so, protest leader Sok Sorng said yesterday.
“Before we protested, they would charge 6,000 baht [US$194] for the passport, and when we wanted to go back, they did not allow us,” he said. “But after we protested for a few days, we are allowed to come back home if we want. We spend only 1,000 baht.”
The money is allegedly supposed to reimburse the Cambodian company that sent them there, CDM Trading Manpower.
Heng Sophea, communications officer at CDM Trading Manpower, said yesterday all workers who wanted to return had been allowed to do so, but he declined to specify whether this required the workers to pay money.
“We gave the right to them after we found a solution,” she said, before declining to comment further.
Phatthana Seafood could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Andy Hall, foreign expert at Mahidol University’s Institute of Population and Social Research in Bangkok, said grave breaches of contract had been committed by CDM and Phatthana, which had severely exploited the workers.
“There is some kind of offer from the broker to allow people to go home temporarily, which is linked to the debt bondage issue. The offer is not unconditional, and seems to confuse the situation because it seems to suggest that CDM are not at fault,” Hall said.
The workers have been demanding the company restore a 20 baht daily food allowance and 20 baht hard work bonus they have said was stripped after their salaries were increased to meet a new minimum wage in Songkhla province.
Before this, the workers had also told the Post fees for living expenses and passports not mentioned in their original contracts had been deducted from their salaries.
Officials at the Cambodian and Thai ministries of labour could not be reached for comment yesterday.