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Thai fishing industry under spotlight

A group of Cambodian men who had been trafficked to Thailand to work on fishing boats return at Phnom Penh International Airport
A group of Cambodian men who had been trafficked to Thailand to work on fishing boats return at Phnom Penh International Airport in March. VIREAK MAI

Thai fishing industry under spotlight

Far stricter monitoring of the recruitment and employment of Cambodians and other migrant labourers is needed to ensure the future of the Thai fishing industry, a new study by the International Labour Organization warns.

“Improving working conditions is also vital to addressing the severe labour shortages in the fishing sector, and to ensure the sustainability of the industry,” Supang Chantavanich, director of the Asian Research Center on Migration, said in a statement.

Released yesterday, the ILO survey on working conditions in the perilous Thai fishing industry is the most comprehensive to date.

Though the sample size numbers only in the hundreds, the study provides the first widespread look at conditions aboard fishing trawlers and the reasons why the risky industry continues to lure.

Two and a half per cent of the 241 Cambodians interviewed reported having been severely beaten while on board, while a quarter were forced to work or be on call 17 to 24 hours a day.

Despite the abysmal hours, however, wages remain low. More than 56 per cent of Cambodians receive an average monthly wage of less than 5,000 baht ($158). The majority – 61.4 per cent – possess no documents of any sort, while four per cent are underage.

The report highlights at least one “extremely exploitative” case of a 12-year-old Cambodian “who reported working 20 hours in a typical day”.

Despite the hardships, however, more than 99 per cent of Cambodians interviewed said they had accepted the positions voluntarily – driven by the prospect of more lucrative work abroad.

But of those who voluntarily climb aboard, many “also reported experiences that indicate a forced-labour situation at some point during their employment in the fishing industry”, the report notes. “For example, 60 respondents [of all nationalities] were severely beaten while on board a fishing vessel, 66 respondents tried to escape from a fishing boat and 24 respondents were sold or transferred to another boat against their will.”

More than 70 Cambodians trafficked to work on Thai trawlers have been repatriated this year alone, according to figures from the International Organization for Migration.

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