Category Archives: Labour standards for migrant workers

MMN in Media: Podcast: Domestic Helpers- More Helpers from Cambodia in Hong Kong

It has been recently announced that the first batch of domestic workers from Cambodia will arrive in Hong Kong in the autumn. There are concerns about these workers’ vulnerability to rights violation as new comers. Speakers from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Employers’ Association and NGOs including a representative of the Mekong Migration Network (Reiko Harima, Regional Coordinator) discuss the issues surrounding foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong in this an-hour-long radio program.

The program was broadcast live on 26 April 2017


Please click the link below to listen to the full podcast:

Podcast: Domestic Helpers- More Helpers from Cambodia in Hong Kong


New reformist role for Thai Union

Production of many brands of canned tuna and other seafood make Thai Union the world’s largest seller. (Photo Phuket News)

Thai Union Group, the world’s largest canned tuna company, is considering changes to its supply chains that could transform the seafood industry forever. Having been a target of investigation over coerced labour in its supply chains, the company is yet to take the significant steps needed to ensure its suppliers refrain from human rights abuses and destruction of the ocean.

Thai Union can show its commitment to leading by immediately addressing transshipment at sea — a shifty practice that is often associated with illegal fishing and human rights abuse.

It has been almost two years since the European Union (EU) gave Thailand a “yellow card” for its failure to prevent illegal and unregulated fishing in the country’s supply chains of seafood that eventually end up as exports to Europe. That warning continues today, as the Thai government has not taken decisive actions needed to eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing or address the concerns on compliance with international rules on seafood supply.

Thai Union should not wait for the government to step up but should commit to transformative changes. One way for the company to show its leadership is to end transshipment at sea in its supply chains. In doing so, Thai Union can send a message to both the Thai government and the seafood industry as a whole that any practices associated with human rights abuses and illegal fishing should not and must not be tolerated.

Global Fishing Watch, an non-profit organisation that tracks commercial fishing activities worldwide, recently released a groundbreaking report on transshipment worldwide, observing 90% of the world’s reefer fleets over a four year time frame. The report finds 86,490 instances of potential transshipment. Over 40% of the transshipment incidents happened on the high seas, away from regulations and inspections, and appeared to be associated with patterns of IUU fishing.

Companies that are complicit in abuses of workers in their supply chains also often engage in destructive or illegal fishing, and have little regard for fishery management regulations.

As a direct result of overfishing, many coastal stocks are depleted and vessels must travel further into the high seas to fish. Rather than losing precious fishing time and incurring increased costs of returning to port, the industry increasingly relies on transshipment at sea — where smaller boats refuel, restock, and transfer catch onto larger cargo vessels. This practice turns fishing boats into floating prisons, and enables vessels to hide illegally-caught fish and mistreat crew members. Many trafficked and abused workers are forced to remain at sea with no means of escape for months or even years.

Recently, there have been attempts to remove the worst offenders from the water, which would have a positive effect on the ocean and people. In February 2017, Thailand’s Department of Fisheries (DoF) announced “the strengthening of transshipment control measures”. The announcement requires all Thai distant water fishing vessels to return back to port within 90 days and to ensure that there is no transshipment at sea involved while returning from the Indian ocean.

Thai Union can make a difference. By taking specific and practical steps to reform its operations, the company can be a driving force in continuing the modernisation of the fisheries sector in Thailand and reforming the seafood industry at large.

According to Greenpeace’s 2016 Southeast Asia canned tuna ranking, all tuna brands, including Thai Union, are still falling short on both sustainability and social responsibility issues.

If Thai Union continues to rely on transshipment at sea to operate, then it is reasonable to be concerned about all of its supply chains. Tuna can be commingled from several different sources with relative ease, obfuscating the supply chain and erasing the detection of tuna caught in an illegal or unethical manner.

Recently Mars and Nestle committed to making changes to help ensure their pet food supply chains operate in a manner that does not harm our oceans and does not abuse workers. The companies will address transshipment at sea throughout their pet food supply chains, which puts pressure on Thai Union, a supplier for both companies, to do the same thing.

If Thai Union commits to end at-sea transshipment in its supply chains until the associated problems are addressed, it can help lead the change for the entire industry.

Greenpeace believes a moratorium on transshipment at sea is needed until new standards are agreed upon by the industry and regulators and are demonstrably met using third-party auditors.

It is time for accountability in the global seafood industry, and that can begin with Thai Union.


By: Tara Buakamsri, Thailand Country Director, Greenpeace Southeast Asia for Bangkok Post

Published on: 2 May 2017


Migrant Rights Activist: Booming Thai Border Town ‘Built on Burmese Sweat’

MAE SOT, Thailand — Mae Sot, a border town in western Thailand, has changed starkly in the past few years. Once quiet, the town now has shopping malls, hotels, an airport, a new bridge, and construction projects widening its main road.

The graft of Burmese labor workers contributes greatly to the town’s development. U Moe Joe, a longtime Burmese migrant rights activist and the chairman of Mae Sot-based Joint Action Committee for Burma Affairs (JACBA), has been supporting Burmese workers in the town for 14 years.

Senior reporter Saw Yan Naing interviews U Moe Joe about his views on the growth of Mae Sot and its consequences for migrant workers.

How do you see the expansion of Mae Sot?

There are huge expansion projects in Mae Sot, including an airport, shopping malls, supermarkets, government offices, buildings, and a hospital. These all benefit the Thai people, but many Burmese migrant workers who work in construction don’t receive proper wages.

Many workers on Robinson [a shopping mall named for its primary department store] still haven’t received their wages and we heard that migrants who helped construct the airport didn’t get full wages. The workers were supposed to be paid 300 Thai baht (US$8.5) a day but some received 160-250 baht ($4.5-7.2). There’s still exploitation—it’s one of the results of expansion in Mae Sot, but Burmese migrant workers should also benefit. Every construction project has problems paying the migrant workers.

Have you noticed many Burmese migrant workers returning home now that their country is opening?

Some Burmese workers are going back to live in Burma now the NLD [National League for Democracy] has come to power, but we don’t know the official figure. Some permanently move back and others go back and forth. Garment factory workers, who do well back in Burma, often go back but it doesn’t work out so well for those in construction and agriculture. They come to Thailand after they don’t find work in Burma.

Numbers of Burmese people still come to Thailand for work but we don’t have the statistics because many of them cross into Thailand illegally. Migrant workers visiting their homes have brought back friends in the past but we don’t see that now. The number of newcomers is decreasing.

What about the abuse and exploitation of Burmese migrant workers in Mae Sot compared to the past? 

Employers used to solve their problems with employees in a criminal way and the migrant workers always lost, but now the Thai government is working on upgrading standards, especially for child workers and forced laborers.

The government fines employers but in no case has the employer been jailed. It’s common for employees to be jailed, so there are many things that need improving. Guilty employers should also been jailed yet, for now, they pay the fine and are free.

Why do Burmese people still go to work in Thailand? 

There are still problems with the wages in Burma, although it’s improving under the new civilian government compared to the previous regime. Workers in Burma do not get paid the same rate as those in Thailand, which is why they still come.

When did Mae Sot begin to expand? 

Mae Sot is a town in Tak Province where all the government offices are based. It has a lot of factories—180 registered factories by our estimate. So migrant workers go to Mae Sot. Within the last five years, government offices, departments, privately owned buildings and hotels have sprung up. All the construction on those buildings was built with the labor of Burmese migrant workers. They work in the heat. They built them with their sweat.

By:  Saw Yan Nain, Irrawaddy News

Published on: 1 May 2017

Thai court awards K100 million to sacked Myanmar workers

Sixty-five Myanmar workers, who were sacked by a Thai factory in Bangkok, have been awarded more than K100 million (Thai baht 2,751,000) in compensation, according to the Thai based Aid Alliance Committee (AAC).

Workers who sued the factory owners after being sacked and brought the matter to court four months ago were paid the compensation on March 31. Photo – Supplied

AAC member Ko Ye Min told The Myanmar Times yesterday that the workers who demanded for fair and equitable compensation and pressed for their rights were compensated by the pet food company that belongs to the Bangkok-based PCG Group.

“Forty-three workers who did not demand for compensation from the factory owners and the labour agency that engaged them were left out of the compensation package. The remaining 65 workers managed to get compensations because they believed in the labour rights and our labour rights society” Ko Ye Min said.

The 65 workers sued the factory owners after being sacked and brought the matter to court four months ago. They were paid the compensation on March 31.

According to to the AAC, initially, 108 Myanmar workers were dismissed but 43 withdrew from the case.

Thailand’s Labour Rights Department ruled that the factory must pay 3000 baht to the workers as the business owners failed to give
them proper notice.

Ko Ye Min said that according to Thai labour laws, factory owners have to compensate 9000 baht (one month wages) to the workers who have put in four months to a year in service.

Workers who have served for from one to three years, have been compensated with 27,000 baht (three month wages).

The PCG Group’s Thai Pet also had to compensate 54,000 baht (six month wages ) to the workers who have three to six years’ services and 72,000 baht (8 month wages) to those who have six to nine years’ services.

And workers who worked for nine years or more were compensated 90,000 baht, according to the AAC.

“Workers need to be patient if they face labour disputes in Thailand. They must be prepared to wait for a long time. Workers must have the will to confront delinquent employers. They also need to trust the labour organisation and seek their help,” Ko Ye Min told The Myanmar Times.

Out of the 65 workers, eight of them were employed under a joint MoU between the two governments while the others were living and

working in Thailand with temporary passports.
A total of 108 migrant workers, employed by the PCG group had been working for between one and 12 years, were sacked in November 2016, after the owners hired about 200 workers from Cambodia.

Speaking to The Myanmar Times, factory worker Ko Soe Hlaing Min, who put in two years’ service, said “Factory officials told us we don’t need to work anymore. They would not give us any more jobs. They also told us that we can report to any official but nothing will come of it.”

Myanmar embassy officials managed to help the workers to sue the factory owners, who dismissed the workers illegally in December 2016.

The Myanmar Times couldn’t reach embassy officials yesterday for their comments on the compensation package.

According to a statement by Thai based Migrant Worker Rights Network (MWRN), another 14 Myanmar migrant workers, employed at a chicken farm, were compensated 1.7 million baht because their labour rights had been violated.

The case of the 14 Myanmar migrants has prompted the Thai government to investigate all chicken farms and has taken action against those that have violated labour rights.

The 14 Myanmar migrants were awarded the human rights prize by a Thai human rights lawyer’s foundation.


By: Zaw Zaw Htwe, Myanmar Times

Published On: 4 April 2017

Thailand accused of failing to stamp out murder and slavery in fishing industry

UN labour agency claims migrants employed on fishing vessels in Thai waters remain vulnerable to trafficking and forced labour despite previous warnings

Fish are dried on a boat in the Thai fishing port of Bang Saphan. Photograph: Patrick Forget/Alamy Stock Photo


Thailand is failing to protect migrant workers on fishing trawlers from murder and starvation, with trafficking and forced labour still rampant despite new government legislation, according to a new report.

In an unusually critical ruling by the UN’s labour agency, the International Labour Organisation has urged the Thai government to remedy continued abuses on fishing vessels operating in Thai waters. It follows a formal complaint to the ILO by international trade unions last year, which highlighted evidence of migrant workers enduring 20-hour working days, physical abuse and non-payment of wages.

Activists greeted the ruling as further evidence that little progress has been made on these issues, despite continued pressure from the EU and US.

The evidence submitted to the ILO by the International Transport Federation (ITF) and the International Trade Union Conference (ITUC) catalogued various instances of forced labour and abuse on Thai fishing vessels, following a series of interviews with Thai and migrant workers conducted by the ITF in 2015.

  • Workers claimed they were locked up and forced to work on vessels in Indonesian waters, often fishing illegally, despite paying huge recruitment fees. One worker was severely beaten by his captain and chained to the boat by his neck after trying to escape.
  • Workers said they had witnessed the murder of crewmen by their captains. One man claimed his captain shot dead a Cambodian worker and killed four Thai fishermen by throwing them overboard.
  • Workers said they were subject to debt bondage, worked unpaid and witnessed captains physically abusing other crew. They also described 20-hour working days and said food was limited.

The cases outlined in the unions’ complaint echo accounts of modern slavery and severe abuse highlighted in previous investigations, including those by the Guardian in 2014. They also underscore reports by the Thai government itself of severe abuses on Thai boats in the Saya de Malha, off the coast of Madagascar, where nearly half of the 1,000 fishermen on 50 vessels were working in violation of immigration and labour laws.

Interviews by Greenpeace with fishermen on board tuna gillnetters that had been operating in the same bank revealed claims that the men had been trafficked and forced to work with just four hours’ rest a day. Some of the fishermen claimed to have been at sea for five years continuously.

Thailand’s $6.5bn (£5.2bn) seafood export industry – the world’s fourth largest, according to the most recent figures – has suffered significantly following allegations of human rights and labour abuses, and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. In 2014, Thailand was downgraded in the US state department’s Trafficking in Persons report, which marks countries for their stance on slavery. In 2015, Thailand was given a “yellow card” warning by the EU to clean up or face a ban on EU imports.

The Thai government has introduced some reforms and new laws to address trafficking and forced labour, but the ILO report emphasises that not enough has been done. It points to gaps in the country’s legal framework and enforcement, in particular in the regulation of brokers who recruit workers, the prosecution of corrupt officials, and the effective inspection of vessels.

Through its embassy in London, the Thai government said it had cooperated fully with the ILO investigation, and that the ILO had recognised the efforts made by Thailand to eliminate forced labour in its fishing and seafood industry. The government said it had made further progress in the areas highlighted by the ILO since the complaint was filed.

Johnny Hansen, chair of the ITF fisheries section, welcomed the ILO ruling. “We recognise the progress made by the Thai government,” he said. “But this ruling shows that it still has a long way to go to achieve real change for the countless migrant fishers trapped into forced labour, trafficking, deplorable working conditions and physical abuse.”

Steve Trent of the Environmental Justice Foundation, said the Thai government has made only inconsistent attempts to address forced labour, despite recent 14-year jail sentences for traffickers in the port of Kantang.

Trent said: “On one hand, there’s been structural reforms. But the situation remains the same: there’s inconsistent and ad-hoc implementation of the law, and obvious abuses still continue because of corruption or rogue businesses or vessels.”

Human rights activist Andy Hall, who recently fled Thailand due to ongoing prosecutions related to his work, said the country had an “endemic” problem. “Not only on fishing boats, but also on poultry farms, on rubber plantations, in large seafood and poultry export factories, as well as in the factories exporting medical supplies like rubber gloves across the world and in the fruit and vegetable export sectors.”


By: Felicity Lawrence and Kate Hodal, The Guardian

Published On: 30 March 2017

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