By CHULARAT SAENGPASSA
THAILAND IS now well on its path to becoming the first Asian nation to ratify C188 – Work in Fishing Convention, and despite protests from many fishing operators, the government is confident the ratification will “benefit all”.
“We will ensure that C188 measures are taken in accordance with the Thai context,” Labour Minister Pol General Adul Sangsingkeo said in a move to calm down the fuming owners of commercial fishing vessels.
He said that while the crew on fishing boats will be better protected and get welfare in compliance with C188, their employers will no longer face a labour shortage.
Moreover, Adul said humane treatment of fishing-boat workers will give Thailand a trade advantage.
C188 became a hot topic of discussion after the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) late last month approved the Labour Ministry’s decision to ratify this convention, which seeks to deliver better welfare and protection for people working in the fishing sector.
“I will represent Thailand in ratifying C188,” Adul said. The C188 measures will become effective one year after ratification.
Thailand’s fishing industry has long struggled with labour shortages amid reports of abuse on fishing vessels. According to the Labour Rights Promotion Network, fishing-vessel crew earned just Bt5,000 per month in 2011 and rarely got the 1 per cent commission per catch they were promised.
Even more worrying were findings that fishing-vessel captains often paid guards to beat up workers who disobeyed their commands and even abandoned some disobedient workers on small islets as punishment.
Once Thailand starts complying with C188, it will enforce 14 measures for workers in the fishing sector. Among them are annual health check-ups (including eye examination), free transportation from a foreign port to Thailand, social security and certified good working and living conditions for the crew.
“There are 10 other measures, but these are already required by other Thai laws, regardless of the C188 ratification,” Adul explained.
These 10 measures include a limit on minimum working age, regular pay, medical care, prevention of accidents and compensation for work-related deaths/injuries.
Old boats not to be reconfigured
Adul added that existing fishing boats do not need to be reconfigured to meet C188 requirements, putting to rest fishing operators’ concerns that it would be too expensive. The C188 makes it mandatory for each fishing vessel to have one bedroom and toilet for every four workers, a library, a gym and a recreation room.
“The new configuration will only apply to new boats,” he said.
Thailand has 36,953 registered fishing vessels, of which 26,373 are local fishermen’s boats, which will not be subject to C188. Only 10,579 fishing vessels registered for commercial operations will have to comply with C188 measures.
“In reality, there are just four new measures for commercial fishing operators to comply with,” the minister said.
Manit Damkul, president of the Krabi Fishermen’s Association, said he and fishing operators from 22 seaside provinces will rally against C188, because it is not possible for them to comply with the measures.
Even without reconfiguring boats, he said, enrolling workers to the national social-security scheme and contributing to welfare would be too much for commercial fishing operators.
In recent months, fishermen have staged several protests over C188, saying that compliance with this international convention will only ruin Thailand’s multibillion baht fishing industry and will very likely hurt related businesses too.
Adul, however, argued that fishing operators should realise that their industry will suffer a bigger blow if Thailand does not ratify C188.
“If labour protection is not solid enough in the industry, there is a risk that foreign countries will stop buying Thai seafood,” he pointed out.
In 2015, the European Union raised a yellow flag and threatened to ban imports of Thai fishing products due to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing practices.
Fishing operators have already organised large demonstrations in several provinces.
A Krabi-based fisherman said he believes fishing crew would not have joined the protests if they understood the content of C188.
“C188 is, after all, for their benefit,” he said. “Many joined protests because their employers told them to.”
Adisorn Kerdmongkol, coordinator for Migrant Population Network, hailed the government’s move to ratify C188, because it reflects the government’s commitment to solving harsh working conditions, torture and unfair pay.
“I expect the government to introduce an executive decree to enforce labour welfare that is in line with C188 soon,” he said.