Thai authorities are issuing labour ID cards to migrant workers within its fishing industry following heavy criticism for inaction against rampant human trafficking in the trade.
The Thai government is rolling out the special programme following recent pressure to tackle the industry’s persistent problem of slavery and trafficking, mainly of Burmese nationals, said Aung Kyaw, vice-president of the Migrant Worker Rights Network (MWRN).
“Labour cards have been issued to migrant workers on fishing boats since 1 April, but those working on land are not being included,” said Aung Kyaw.
According to MWRN, some one million Burmese work in the Thai fishing industry, most in fish processing factories in the ports surrounding Bangkok, but also a large number as fishermen on offshore trawlers.
Inspections have recently been carried out by officials on fishing boats in an attempt to assess the legal status of workers and possible labour abuses. International observers have called on the Thai government to to verify the citizenship and status of migrant workers within its lucrative fishing trade after the rescue of hundreds of fishermen, including a large percentage of Burmese migrants, from an Indonesian island last month, following an investigation from the Associated Press.
Thailand’s junta chief Prayut Chan-o-cha said in April he would take action on the industry following an EU threat to ban fish imports from the country if more is not done to invoke change.
Thailand – the world’s third largest producer of seafood products – was issued with a ‘yellow card’ by the European Union (EU) Commission for its inadequate monitoring, controls and penalties.
The Southeast Asian country was warned in April that a total ban, or a ‘red card’, would follow if the situation is not improved within six months.
International observers have criticised the murky circumstances in which many migrants work in the industry for some years, with the ILO warning of “serious abuses” in 2013.
An independent report by the UK-based Environmental Justice Foundation in early 2014 also warned that slavery was rife on Thai fishing boats and trawlers.
Since then, both the EU and United States, which are major markets for Thai seafood products, have vowed to jointly combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
In 2014, Thailand, which is home to an estimated two to three million migrant labourers, most of them from Burma, was downgraded in the US State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report.
Thailand was listed as a ‘Tier 3’ country, the lowest rank, indicating that the government has not met minimum anti-trafficking standards and could face restrictions on non-humanitarian and non-trade-related assistance.