Thailand Ratifies Work in Fishing Convention, Considers Under 18s
Thailand has become the first country in Asia to ratify the Work in Fishing Convention, 2007 (No.188), which protects the living and working conditions of fishers on board vessels.
The Work in Fishing Convention sets out binding requirements relating to work on board fishing vessels, including occupational safety and health, medical care at sea and ashore, rest periods, written work agreements and social security protection. It also aims to ensure that fishing vessels provide decent living conditions for fishers on board.
“The Royal Thai Government’s ratification of the Convention reflects its strong political will to ensure that the working conditions in its domestic fishing industry meet ILO standards. It underlines Thailand’s full commitment to raising the standards of labor protection for both Thai and migrant workers and eliminating forced labor, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals ,” said Thai Labour Minister, Police General Adul Sangsingkeo, who deposited the instrument of ratification at the headquarters of the International Labour Organization (ILO) in the presence of ILO Director-General Guy Ryder.
The commercial fishing and seafood industry contributes around $6 billion to Thai exports, with Thailand being among the top global exporters of seafood products. The Thai fishing and seafood processing sectors together employed more than 600,000 workers in 2017, of whom 302,000 were registered migrant workers. The Thai fishing industry alone registered more than 57,000 migrant fishers in 2017 on approximately 10,550 commercial fishing vessels.
The Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), an NGO that has worked closely with the Royal Thai Government on the issue of forced labor and slavery since 2015, warns that a recent proposition that 16-year-olds be allowed to work on vessels may lead to further abuse.
The Royal Thai Government is currently considering allowing captains to employ 16-year-olds on fishing vessels. While several measures to protect against abuse have been put forward – such as only allowing Thai nationals that are relatives of the captain, and forbidding them to work at night – permitting 16-year-olds to work in an industry prone to abuse could be a step backwards, says EJF. The protective measures are good in theory, but enforcement would be difficult, if not impossible.
EJF also points out that even industry representatives have reservations. Mongkol Sukcharoenkana, chairman of the National Fishing Association of Thailand – the main body representing the interests of commercial vessel owners in Thailand, was quoted this week as saying that hiring under 18s would be a step backwards despite being technically allowed within the C188 framework.
As part of their investigations, the EJF has spoken to workers who have reported brutal physical abuse at the hands of their employers, brokers or other crewmembers if they did not work hard enough. They reported being forced to work for periods of 24 hours or more, often in return for little or no money.
The EJF has also found lingering shortcomings that prevent Thailand’s fishing industry from becoming truly ethical and sustainable. For instance, inspections are not always rigorous, and EJF has identified cases of captains signing on behalf of crew to confirm they were given breaks, and migrant crews’ payment documents and ATM cards being held by the vessel owner on shore.
Angola, Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Congo, Estonia, France, Lithuania, Morocco, Namibia, Norway, Senegal, South Africa and the United Kingdom, had already ratified the Work in Fishing Convention, making Thailand the 14th country to ratify it. Dating back to 2007, the Convention came into force for the first 10 ratifying States on November 17, 2017. It will come into force in Thailand 30 January 2020, a year after ratification.