This came despite some earlier obstructive attempts by some sections of the fisheries industry to derail the process. According to official sources, Thailand aims to deposit the instrument of ratification for C188 by January 2019, becoming the first ASEAN member state, as well as the first state in Asia, to ratify the Convention.
The Thai fishing industry has been a key area of concern for local and global humanitarian bodies over numerous reports of slavery tactics, physical abuse and human trafficking, and in extreme cases, even murder of migrant workers. However, the process of the C188 ratification has met with opposition from local fisheries groups, who fear the agreement will increase their financial burden.
To address this, Labour Minister Adul Sangsingkeo, was quoted as saying by the Bangkok Post that the Convention will apply only to large fishing vessels weighing at least 30 gross tonnes, engaging a total of 5,000 vessels and at least 30,000 fishermen.
The Labour Ministry has drafted the Work in Fishing Act, B.E. which has fully incorporated views from all stakeholders taken from six rounds of public hearing, where most participants agreed that the ratification of the Convention will be beneficial to both employers and employees, as well as improving the image of Thailand’s fisheries sector and fisheries products.
The ratification of the Convention will elevate the standard of labour protection onboard fishing vessels to be in line with the international standard. It will also reduce the risk of labour falling into forced labour situations. This is attributed to the fact that C188 will ensure decent work for fishing workers, including setting the maximum working hours, ensuring quality of accommodation, food, drinking water and medical care, as well as carrying out inspections of working and living conditions on board the vessels.
In recent years, the country has found difficult to deal with a shortage of workforce in domestic fisheries, as a result from the adoption of stringent measures against illegal fishing as demanded by the EU in 2015. However, in this regard, the Ministry believes that these measures will attract more workers into the fisheries sector, thus alleviating the shortage of labour in the sector.
On the occasion of the announcement, the International Labor Rights Forum welcomed the move but noted there is still much to be done for Thailand to protect the rights of migrant workers, consisting the 90% of fisheries workforce, as the country has yet to ratify the ILO Convention on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise (No. 87) and the ILO Convention on the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining (No. 98). The ILRF also noted:
The Thai Government stakeholder consultations largely did not include the views of the human rights groups, labor rights organizations, and unions, which have been calling for reforms.
It is anticipated that the legal enforcement will commence by mid-2019. At present, Thailand’s existing regulations of various agencies are already compatible with 80 percent of the provisions of the Convention.