The Thai and Migrant Fishers Union Group (TMFG) is disputing claims by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) that they are a government- and industry-run organization.
The TMFG also took issue with a letter sent by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to the Thai government, and made apparently mistaken claims that the ILO demanded the TMFG be suspended.
On March 18 2018 the Labour Rights Promotion Network (LPN) launched the TMFG in coordination with the Labour Ministry, the National Fisheries Association (NFAT) of Thailand and other groups.
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, but according to Naruemon Thabchumpon, a researcher from the Asian Research Centre for Migration, various government agencies have already recognised the existence of the TMFUG.
The TMFG consists of over 100 formerly enslaved Thai and migrant fishers, and aims to help former victims seek justice and compensation, as well as provide job training and emotional support.
At the time, Thanaporn Sriyakul, an assistant to the Agriculture Minister said that launching the unofficial union was part of Thailand's efforts to remove the “yellow card” that the EU gave to Thailand in 2015 for its human rights abuses in the fishing industry.
The ITF wrote a letter to the ILO on April 16 2018 saying that the formation of the group was an effort to subvert the attempts of the ITF’s Fishers Rights Network to create its own independent union for fishers in Thailand and “supplant that with an industry- and government-run association for fishers with corporate and employer association support.”
The letter urged the ILO to take action to halt the formation of the TMFG.
As a result, the ILO wrote a letter to the Labour Ministry repeating the allegations of the ITF and stating the importance of trade union autonomy, and asked the government to respond to the ITF’s concerns.
At a panel on Tuesday at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand, the TFMG released a letter claiming that the ILO demanded that the government suspend the TFMG’s registration efforts “based solely on ITF’s groundless accusations.”
“We are disappointed by ILO’s intervention demanding the Thai government to suspend our efforts to register TMFG as a labour association because of a sole allegation of a powerful organization,” read the letter. “Please cease the effort to discriminate victims who strongly organise to help others”
Jason Judd from the ILO said at the panel that his organization’s office in Geneva was simply passing on the concerns of the ITF to the government and that the ILO does not have the power to demand the group’s suspension.
“The ILO has no such power, has made no such demand and will wait on Geneva to respond if it deems it necessary to the government’s reply,” he said.
He added that he would pass the letter from the TFMG to the appropriate ILO officials.
Several founders of the TFMG took issue with the allegation that their organization was dominated by employer interests.
“We just want to help our friends preserve their rights and their dignity,” said Chairat Ratchapaksi, a Phetchaburi man who was rescued from Indonesia in 2015.
“As a human being, my intention is to help other human beings. Is there something wrong with that?” said Tun Lin, a survivor from Myanmar. “Do we have any other forum to address these misunderstandings to understand each other better, rather than write this letter?”
The TFMG members at the FCCT