In an attempt to get the EU yellow card on Thai fishery products lifted, civil society organisations, the private sector and the Labour Ministry have launched a union group of migrants in the fishing industry to increase workers’ bargaining power.
On 18 March 2018, the Labour Rights Promotion Network Foundation hosted a ceremony to launch the Thai and Migrant Fisher Union Group (TMFUG). The project is coordinated among the Labour Ministry, Chulalongkorn University’s Asian Research Centre for Migration (ARCM), the National Fisheries Association of Thailand (NFAT) and the Myanmar Migrants Network to Promote Rights in Thailand.
The Network stated that the union would focus on protecting the rights of fishing workers and provide them with legal assistance. If the project succeeds, it will benefit Thailand’s fishery exports to western countries, which usually demand respect for labour rights in supply chains.
According to Thanaporn Sriyakul, an assistant to the current Agriculture Minister, the union would benefit Thailand's efforts to remove the “yellow card” which the EU gave to Thailand in 2015 for its failure to crack down on human trafficking in the fishing industry.
Naruemon Thabchumpon, an ARCM researcher, stated that consumers nowadays do not consider only the price of a product, but also hygiene, sustainability and workers’ well-being. The new consumer mentality has forced employers to actively support labour rights, like forming a union. She admitted that legally, the TMFUG is not an official union because the Labour Relations Act of Thailand does not allow non-Thais to register a trade union.
“Now the state and employers have recognised the existence of this union, but it cannot be fully called a union yet, so we call it a union group,” said Naruemon, adding that the network will propose an amendment to the Labour Relations Act to grant non-Thai citizens the right to form a union.
Naruemon further added that the Ministry of Labour and NFAT have confirmed their support of the TMUG since removing the EU yellow card is also their priority.