An ITF delegation has boarded industrial fishing vessels landing their catch in Songkhla port, Southern Thailand this week, as part of an investigation into labour rights abuses.

Thai fishing boat. Photo by SeaDave from Fairlie, Scotland [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The four strong team, who will be in Thailand for six days, found that fishers on board were subject to poor working conditions, cramped accommodation and long contracts, some of them with no hope of returning home with any pay.

Vessels fishing in the gulf of Thailand and Malaysia drop off their catch in Songkhla port daily for selling or canning locally. There are reportedly 40,000 Thai vessels operating with only 10,000 registered (many with fake licences) and unregistered migrant workers. This ‘cloak of invisibility’ allows the boat captains to treat workers like modern day slaves.

ITF inspector Keith McCorriston commented on the conditions found on a vessel he inspected: “The crew were scared to talk to us. They had no contracts, no toilet, no shower, no mattresses. Cooking facilities consisted of an open flame and basic utensils, the 24 crew slept in cramped accommodation. We spoke to one fisher who had been on board for 10 months, although we suspect this is a gross understatement.”

Apinya Tajit from the Stella Maris Seafarers’ Centre in Sriracha explained: “We are dealing with many cases of abandoned fishers in Thailand and of Thai fishers outside of Thailand. We know of one fisher who was abandoned in hospital with no pay after breaking his leg while on board a vessel. He has never had any pay after two years on board. We’re paying his medical bill. Another fisher is so traumatised by his experiences of abuse that he needs trauma counselling. He struggled to explain to us how he was chained up like a dog for trying to escape the vessel he was on.”

Mark Davis, ITF deputy regional secretary for the Asia Pacific region, added: “The industry is facing huge challenges throughout the region but it is the workers who are suffering because of this. Neglect and abuse are rife for migrant workers and Thai nationals too. How have we got to a position where a fish has more value than the worker who catches it?”

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Walton Pantland

South African trade unionist living in Glasgow. Loves whisky, wine, running and the great outdoors. Walton did an MA in Industrial Relations at Ruskin, Oxford, and is interested in how trade unions use new technology to organise.

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