Photo credit: AFP/Pornchai Kittiwongsakul

As Thailand Nears Elections, Fishing Takes Center Stage

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Forced LaborLaw & Policy

Barring any last minute change of plans, Thailand will become the first country in Asia to ratify the International Labour Organization’s Convention on Work in Fishing before general elections and the restoration of democracy on February 24.

“There is a timeline to ratify it by January,” said Busadee Santipitaks, director general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Information Department. “We would like to set an example for the region.”

With election campaigning underway, it looks like the Thai fishing industry will become a hot topic.

The Asia Times reports:

Of the various players in the fishing sector, the National Fisheries Association of Thailand (NFAT), which represents fishing vessel owners, has proven the most reluctant to comply with the reforms, citing rising costs, lack of laborers and reduced competitiveness, labor experts said.

“From day one they were opposed to any sort of change to the status quo, including their systematic and pervasive use of trafficked labor,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The military had to drag them kicking and screaming to the reform process.”

Representatives of the Thai fishing industry have already approached the Peua Thai Party, associated with former populist prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, in an effort to turn their complaints about IUU compliance into an election issue among southern voters.

“I expect that a new democratic government may try to slow down any legislation to implement [the ILO’S Convention], probably under pressure from the NFAT,” Robertson said.

Still, Thailand has taken steps to address trafficking and labor exploitation since investigative reports uncovered widespread abuses in the fishing industry four years ago.

“For instance, a minimum wage was applied to working in fishing for the first time. That was one of the big changes,” explained Jason Judd, chief technical advisor at the ILO’s country office for Thailand, Cambodia and Laos.

Furthermore, the government reviewed the licensing for vessels, weeding out illegal operators and bringing the number of fishing vessels down from 49,860 to 19,424. There is also a new monitoring and surveillance system in place and a special task force set up to arrest vessels involved in illegal fishing and human trafficking.

It is hoped that Thailand’s efforts and ratification of the ILO Convention on Workin Fishing will now prompt its neighbors to act.

“Thailand is in the lead with the ratification and with establishing a system of inspectors,” noted Judd.

“But after some point it becomes a comparative disadvantage if Thailand is making changes to the industry to raise standards but the competition isn’t.”

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