With dramatically increased scrutiny on the Thai fishing industry in recent years, the Thai government and private sector have launched wide-ranging initiatives in an attempt to reform historically unregulated practices and prevent the exploitation of the industry’s workforce, but more work remains to be done. Read more about the Freedom Fund’s Thailand hotspot.
With support from the Freedom Fund, the Migrant Workers Rights Network (MWRN) opened an office a year ago in Songkhla, a fishing port in southern Thailand near the border with Malaysia. Migrant workers are not allowed to lead or form trade unions under Thai labour laws, but MRWN, with the support of State Enterprises Workers’ Relations Confederation, seeks to reduce migrants’ vulnerability to exploitation and strengthen migrant worker communities in Thailand.
MWRN visit seafood, processing and construction factories to identify and disseminate information on workers’ rights and fair labour practices. Leaders are identified in the factories and provide a contact point for workers who can raise any labour issues with them. These leaders then notify MWRN, who will develop a coordinated approach to address these grievances and help them bargain with employers. After just one year, MWRN have five leaders working in over six factories.
One case that highlights the success of this model was a rubber-processing factory where wage payments were not consistent and were also under the rate of subsistence. MWRN became aware of these exploitative practices due to their outreach activities in the area and were approached by 50 individuals who wanted to be included in a grievance process.
In partnership with the labour protection and welfare office, MWRN was able to work with the employers and officials who eventually agreed to pay wages on a monthly basis, as opposed to ad-hoc weekly payments. It is this worker-based empowerment model that MWRN is seeking to re-create amongst workers in the seafood industry in Songkhla.
In MWRN’s office we were also introduced to a migrant worker who had been smuggled into Thailand and willingly went to work on a fishing boat. However, on the boat he witnessed nightly fights between Cambodian and Burmese migrants. The man said that each morning, he would wake up to see floating bodies in the sea.
MWRN were at the local police station working on a separate trafficking case when the man came in looking for food three weeks after leaving the boat in Songkhla. MWRN took him to their office where he spent the night, and they gave him food, clothes and a haircut. The man was traumatised from his experience and in need of specialised help. Although he was not a victim of modern slavery, MWRN gave this person emergency assistance and advice about how to return home.
MWRN are an incredibly driven group of individuals who frequently go beyond the scope of their work to assist migrant workers in need. We are proud to have them as a partner in our Thailand hotspot and we look forward to seeing their progress over the next 12 months.
Photo credit: Brent Lewin