Monday, July 23, 2012

Time to clean up fisheries | Bangkok Post: news

Source: Bangkok Post: news

Following the boycott threats from the European Union and the United States, the government has come up with two outrageous policies that would only worsen the country's already poor reputation over the violation of migrant workers' human rights.
One is the Labour Ministry's plan to send pregnant migrant workers home. The other is the Fisheries Department's move to grant an amnesty to the deep-sea fishing industry despite its notoriety for using trafficked and forced labour as well as environmentally destructive fishing equipment.
Both policies have drawn strong criticism at home and abroad. Yet the authorities seem set to press ahead regardless, which reveals their apparent lack of human rights awareness.
When the US State Department placed Thailand in the Tier 2 Watch List for the country's poor record in eliminating human trafficking last month, the fishing industry was identified as one of the major culprits.
Cheating, fraudulence, debt bondage _ right down to abduction _ are used by traffickers to supply the country's gigantic fleet of more than 40,000 trawlers with much-needed labour. More than 90% of the crew are migrant workers, many of whom have reported slave-like working conditions at sea.
The fishing industry generates a wide range of related businesses that also need a big pool of migrant workers. Often, these businesses confiscate workers' documents and use debt bondage to retain them while refusing them the minimum wage and other labour rights.
To protect the ocean from destructive fishing, the EU and the US last year jointly issued a boycott threat that directly hit the local fishing industry for its other vice _ annihilative fishing that ruins not only the seabed and marine biodiversity, but also the livelihoods of fisher folk in coastal communities.
If placed in the bottom Tier 3 next year by the US, the country is subjected to the withdrawal of state support in many areas. If the local fishing industry does not shape up, the country may well lose its two biggest seafood importers. There is one way to turn things around: get tough with the traffickers and corrupt officials.
The government can also show it means business by arresting law-breaking trawlers, punishing abusive employers, and amending the current migrant labour law which now robs the workers of their freedom of movement and the right to change jobs.
Those measures can convince the international community of the government's commitment to fixing the system. Sending pregnant workers away won't. Granting an amnesty to illegal trawlers won't either. Nor will the policy to allow the fishing industry to regulate its own recruitment and workers' registration system so it can prevent crews from changing jobs.
The heartless policy to deport pregnant workers pressures them to seek abortions. It also forces them go to the traffickers to help get them back here, which defeats the government's purpose of eliminating human trafficking.
Meanwhile, the policy to grant an amnesty to illegal trawlers shows the dubious links between the fishing industry and the fishery authorities and explains why illegal trawlers with fake licences and fishing permits, and those that routinely violate protected coastal seas, are never punished.
The Labour Ministry and the Fishery Department must put a halt to their poorly thought-out policies. If not, they are to be blamed for putting the country under international scrutiny and a new round of boycott threats.

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