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Fishers Rights Network (FRN) Wins Landmark Victory on Back Wages

After months of proceedings, 11 Burmese migrant fisher members of the Fishers Rights Network (FRN) have won nearly $5,000 USD in back pay after their Thai employer tried to cheat them out of their full pay.

Burmese fishers (Source: Fishers Rights) Network (FRN)

The fishers had worked for more than six months without payment, and when the vessel owner finally paid them, it was less than 80% of the wage stated in their employment contract. The fishers organized to take action, and with assistance from the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) and the Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF), filed an official complaint with the Ranong Department of Labour Protection and Welfare (DLPW). After two months of investigation, the DLPW issued an order for the employer to fully compensate the fishers for all outstanding back wages.

“We stood up to fight together as a union and finally have justice. This means we can send more money home to our families, and it shows the strength we have when we stand together,” said FRN leader Aung Myo Oo. “If we stand together as a union we are stronger, and we can stop owners from cheating us.” 

“Unfortunately, despite ratifying the ILO Work in Fishing Convention (C188) in 2019, Thailand has failed to effectively implement and enforce major convention provisions. Current Thai labour law and labour inspections do not meet the standards outlined in the convention that should protect fishers from exploitation and labour rights abuse,” said Johnny Hansen, Chair of the ITF Fisheries Section.

“Fishers in Thailand regularly report to the ITF that they still face major issues such as wage theft, document retention and movement restrictions, debt bondage, inadequate food and clean drinking water onboard, poorly stocked and inaccessible first-aid kits, and intimidation and threats against reporting abuse.”

“Fishers continue to face abuse, but we are standing together to fight for our rights and improve our working conditions,” said FRN leader Aung Myo Oo. “For too long, Burmese and Khmer migrant fishers have worked for owners who break the law and continue to make huge profits in the global seafood market from our labour. Until now, we haven’t fought hard to protect our rights, but as FRN members we are fighting back and winning. This victory proves that we can stop corrupt owners from cheating us.”

In an effort to monitor payments, limit wage theft, and ensure employers are following minimum wage provisions, Thai law requires that fishers receive monthly electronic payments (through a bank account). However, almost all migrant fishers tell FRN that their Captain or vessel owner maintains control of their bank book, ATM card, PIN number, and controls all their bank transactions. Employers transfer and withdraw money to create a fraudulent paper trail to make it appear that they are complying with the law, while continuing to severely exploit migrant fishers who have limited access to legal remedy. Many owners fail to pay fishers the wage stated in their employment contract, and fishers face serious challenges when trying to report or prove their case.

By building the FRN, migrant fishers have been organizing to build power to stand up against these labour and human rights abuses, and to try and level the playing field with employers to negotiate fair employment contracts with decent wages, benefits and safe working conditions.

Thailand has also failed to ratify ILO Conventions 87 and 98, that protect freedom of association and collective bargaining for all workers. “Significant reform is still needed, and all workers—including migrants—should be allowed to exercise their fundamental human rights, including the right to join or form a union,” said Hansen. “Without this fundamental right to organize (protected by law), migrant workers remain vulnerable to labour exploitation and risk employer retribution, unfair penalties, and termination if they collectively organize to demand better wages and working conditions.”

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