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Better labour inspection cuts abuses in the Thai fishing sector

The ILO is training labour inspectors in Thailand as part of a project to prevent and reduce unacceptable forms of work in the country’s fishing and seafood industries.

Feature | 21 October 2019

BANGKOK (ILO News) – Samorn Kumviriya is a labour inspector with more than 15 years of experience, but most of her inspections were in factories on land. That all changed in 2015 following global exposes of “seafood slavery” in the Thai fishing industry and the issuing of a ‘yellow card’ by the European Commission for illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

The Thai government responded with the creation of more than 30 Port In/Port Out (PIPO) Control Centres in 22 coastal provinces to conduct fishing inspections – including labour inspections – in the ports. The inspection effort is a collaboration between multiple government agencies, including the Thai Ministry of Labour (MOL), Royal Thai Navy, and the Department of Fisheries, amongst others, with labour inspections led by MOL’s Department of Labour Protection and Welfare (DLPW).

Kumviriya was assigned to one of the PIPOs in Songkhla province and soon found that the land-based labour inspection regime was ineffective when dealing with labour issues and violations on vessels out at sea. “The labour issues and violations in the fishing industry were very different from what we’ve experienced. The living and working conditions of fishers on vessels were also very different from those on land,” she said.

We learned how to conduct in-depth interviews, and how to inform [migrant] fishers of their rights according to the Thai law, as they might not know their rights."

Samorn Kumviriya, labour inspector
The ILO’s EU-funded Ship to Shore Rights Project stepped in to help the Ministry retrain the labour inspectors. The ILO and DLPW introduced 180 newly-hired labour inspectors to new tools and techniques that will help them address issues in the Thai fishing industry, including strengthening core inspection skills, knowledge of workers’ rights, changes to Thai law (including the new forced labour prohibition), and basic health and safety matters – vital information for fishers working in inherently dangerous jobs.

“The training’s emphasis was on improving the capacity of labour inspectors. We learned how to conduct in-depth interviews, and how to inform [migrant] fishers of their rights according to the Thai law, as they might not know their rights,” said Kumviriya.

To help lock in place improvements to labour law, Thailand ratified the ILO Work in Fishing Convention, 2007 (No. 188), and is the first country in Asia to do so. In consultation with employers’ and workers’ organizations, the government has made changes to Thai law to meet the requirements of the Convention.

Following the ratification, the EU decided to lift its yellow card and now Thailand will have to focus more on effective enforcement. The lessons learned and the challenges faced by fishers, employers, and the Ministry regulators have been incorporated into the new labour inspectors training curriculum – of which this video on techniques and challenges is part – in an attempt to end labour abuses in the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea.