Forced labour and human trafficking are rampant in the Thai fishing industry, where migrant workers are often forced or lured into situations of slavery aboard fishing vessels and in seafood processing plants. Surachai Mintun is a migrant worker from Myanmar who for years worked as a fisherman. Currently, he works for Freedom Fund partner LPN (Labour Rights Promotion Network) as an investigator, translator and trainer providing necessary information to fellow migrant labourers.
Surachai Mintun is an influential advocate and figure among migrant labourers, with over 300,000 Facebook followers. Fluent in Burmese and Thai, Surachai Mintun is one of the Ministry of Justice’s translators employed to assist migrant labourers in court. He also works in rights protection and migrant children’s education, and he leads LPN lectures in schools and factories.
When he was 18 years old, Surachai Mintun came to Thailand to work as a fisherman. He worked several jobs in many sectors all over Thailand, including as a carrier in a squid processing factory and as a human resources representative. His job as an HR representative was the last position he held before he decided to take up his role at LPN, and as Surachai Mintun himself notes, it was the last job that made him feel uncomfortable and useless. Even though he was in human resources, Surachai Mintun felt that he wasn’t able to help anybody. Employees at the factory would approach him to discuss the struggles they endured, including not receiving salaries. Unable to help them, he decided to leave the factory and join LPN.
While at LPN, he posted a video clip on Facebook about new migration policy changes in Myanmar and Thailand. At the time, the governments decided to cancel all the passports of migrants working in Thailand, arguing that the current passport application system was ineffective.
“So everybody needed to get a new passport instead, even though our passports had not expired yet,” Surachai Mintun said. “I couldn’t accept this and felt like it was not fair to us.”
He then posted a clip explaining the migrant workers’ perspective, hoping the governments would understand how the policy change would place migrants in a dire situation. Surachai Mintun also argued that if the reason the governments were voiding all migrants’ passports was because the previous application system was ineffective, how could migrants trust that the next system would be effective?
After Surachai Mintun posted his video, the Thai and Burmese authorities issued a new policy that extended the amount of time migrants had to apply for new passports. As a result of his video, he noticed that his Facebook followers increased dramatically, and he was gaining up to 10,000 followers per day. He found out that Facebook became the best channel to communicate with migrant labourers, posting information about their rights, migrant children’s education, government policies, legal consultation and their livelihoods. At present, migrants have more opportunities and channels to contact LPN.
Having become a “net-idol” for migrant workers in Thailand, Surachai Mintun is happy he can assist so many people with relevant information about migrant labour.
“I really feel good when they say thank you to me, talk with me, take a selfie with me, or just be friendly and trust me,” he said. “All of those things have made me feel like they love me, and it encourages me to have energy to work more.”
Consequently, those who receive information from him share it widely with many people, not only migrant labourers, but also their employers or brokers so they can learn how to handle situations regarding migrant labour.
The Freedom Fund’s Thailand Hotspot aims to significantly reduce slavery in the Thai seafood industry. Learn more.
Pictured: Surachai Mintun