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Fishers’ Rights Network finds forced labour conditions rampant in Thai fishing industry

news Press Release 24 Jan 2024


Survey results released today by the ITF Fishers’ Rights Network (FRN) show shocking breaches of international labour standards in the Thai fishing industry with 99% of fishers not legally paid, 87% in some form of debt bondage, and 84% without access to their passport.

FRN leaders are calling on the Thai Government to effectively enforce the ILO Work in Fishing Convention (C188), sanction vessel owners breaking the law, and take immediate action to prevent inhumane forced labour conditions.

Over 1,000 migrant fishers were surveyed in 11 Thai provinces between November and December 2023 regarding their working conditions in the Thai fishing industry.

Ye Thwe, FRN President and former migrant fisher in Thailand, called for immediate action to enforce humane international standards: "Burmese and Khmer fishers still endure dire forced labour conditions, such as lack of adequate clean drinking water on board, limited hours of rest, debt bondage, document retention and other severe labour abuses despite Thailand having ratified C188, ILO's Work in Fishing Convention."

"It is clear from these survey results that migrant fishers endure conditions no one should have to tolerate. Human rights violations are still prevalent, and regulations are not being properly followed. We often hear from fishers who are not paid for months at a time, face dangerous conditions onboard, and are intimidated by the process to report violations.”

"I was a fisher for 15 years and not much has improved. Most fishers don't have enough clean drinking water onboard, have their identity documents held by their employer, and are not paid according to Thai law. Fishers face working conditions that are unsafe because they don’t have enough time to rest – increasing accidents and injuries onboard," said Ye Thwe.

Commenting on the Thai Government's failing to effectively implement and enforce provisions C188 that Thailand ratified in 2019, Johnny Hansen, Chair of the ITF Fisheries Section said: “The results presented in this report clearly show that significant action is urgently needed to fully protect the labour and human rights of migrant fishers in Thailand.”

“When countries ratify C188, it should mean that humane working conditions for fishers are effectively implemented and enforced. Current conditions demonstrate that Thai labour law and labour inspections do not meet the standards set out in the Convention that should protect fishers from exploitation and labour rights abuse."

"Thailand has an opportunity to demonstrate leadership in the region and set an example that they are effectively ensuring Thai seafood is free from forced labour. Failing to enforce C188 puts all seafood exports from Thailand under scrutiny and casts a dark shadow over labour conditions in the industry. Violators of ­international labour standards should be held to account, and inspections should identify violations and correct bad behaviour – not overlook violations in an effort to report false and misleading statistics," he added.

FRN calls on the Thai Government to:

  • Enforce C188 and ensure that all fishers work in humane conditions free from labour abuse or forced labour conditions.
  • Ensure that all PIPO inspections provide a safe and protected space and process for fishers to report violations in their own language.
  • Support Thai agencies to enforce all C188 standards, employment contract provisions, and protect migrant fishers' rights.

Media contact: 
Mark Del Greco +66 (0) 74-314-262 
ITF: Siân Manaz +44 (0)7850 736145 <

About the ITF: The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) is a global, democratic, affiliate-led movement of 740 transport workers’ unions recognised as the world’s leading transport authority. We fight passionately to improve working lives; connecting trade unions and workers’ networks from 153 countries to secure rights, equality and justice for their members. We are the voice of the 20 million transport workers who move the world.

About the Fishers’ Rights Network: Set up by the ITF, the FRN is a democratic, representative union of fishers in Thailand which campaigns to improve the wages, working conditions and labour rights of all fishers in the Thai fishing industry.

Notes for editors:

Key survey findings:

  • 99% of fishers in Thailand are not paid in accordance with Thai law and are working under illegal payment structures
  • 99% of fishers do not get the legal amount of rest required under ILO C188
  • 87% of fishers are in debt bondage, owing money to their employer for document “fees” or salary “advances”
  • 83% of fishers do not possess or have free access to their identity documents
  • More than 70% of fishers do not have a fully stocked or accessible medicine kit onboard
  • 73% of fishers do not have enough clean drinking water onboard