An EU-funded ILO project works closely with partners towards the prevention and reduction of unacceptable forms of work in the Thai fishing and seafood processing sectors. This is the story of one fisher, Prak Song.
Prak Song is a Cambodian fisher in Thailand’s vast seafood industry. He has worked on trawlers, anchovy boats and purse seiners in his more than ten years as a fisher. Now, he is working in Khlong Yai (Trat Province), the first stop along the Thai border for migrants heading north from Prak’s native Kampong Cham Province.
He and 60,000 other migrant fishers from Cambodia and Myanmar have helped keep the Thai fishing industry afloat before and since it came suddenly to global attention in 2014 with a number of media exposés on forced labour. He works long days at sea—out in the Gulf of Thailand for a week or more at a time—and earns about 220 EUR (8,000 THB) per month.
We are organizing to end debt bondage and to make sure all of us have access to adequate medicine on board
Prak and thousands of other migrant fishers from Cambodia and Myanmar are organizing the Fishers’ Rights Network (FRN) in Thailand with the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), to fight for their rights and protect themselves from labour abuse. “We are organizing to end debt bondage and to make sure all of us have access to adequate medicine on board. We want to build power so owners can’t hold our documents or refuse to pay us what they owe us every month.
The organising work is supported by the EU-funded ILO Ship to Shore Rights Project in Thailand. The project is a partnership between the Thai Ministry of Labour, employers’ organizations, unions, and civil society organizations, and has been working to combat labour abuse in the Thai fishing and seafood industry since 2016.
The ILO’s tripartism model has helped make room for Prak and the FRN, employers’ organizations, and others to debate the new policies and labour enforcement regime built to protect fishers and seafood workers. This was on display in the March 2019 Asia Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development.
Prak joined Thai Tuna Industry Association President Dr Chanintr Chalisarapong and the Head of the EU Delegation to Thailand, Ambassador Pirkka Tapiola, for a debate on decent work for migrants. His union applauded Thailand’s ratification of the ILO Work in Fishing Convention (No. 188, 2007) and Forced Labour Protocol (No. 29, 2014), but insisted that there is still a serious need for effective implementation and enforcement.
Thailand is the first country in Asia to ratify either of these conventions. Recently, a number of migrant fisher leaders gathered to ratify the Fisher’s Rights Network (FRN) constitution and elaborated a set of demands and goals. “No fisherman should have to go to work in a dangerous environment without basic protections. This is why we are building our union—so we have the power to change things for the better”, said Prak.
Ship to Shore Rights
This EU-funded ILO project works closely with partners towards the prevention and reduction of unacceptable forms of work in the Thai fishing and seafood processing sectors. In recent years, a number of graphic reports have triggered increased awareness of the serious human and labour rights abuses committed in the Thai commercial fishing and seafood processing industries, particularly against migrant workers. Warnings of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IIU) have drawn specific attention to the situation. The Thai Government, industry, workers’ organizations and civil society organizations have all stepped up efforts to respond to these abuses.