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Migrant workers keep Thai fishing industry afloat

26 september 2013, 10:20
0
©AFP
©AFP
Sifting through freshly caught sardines at a port in southern Thailand, Shi-Jai is one of thousands of migrant workers -- including women and children -- who keep the kingdom's huge fishing industry in business, AFP reports.

Each day a small army of labourers from countries including Myanmar and Cambodia -- some legal, some undocumented -- man rusting trawlers or help offload and sort the catch at ports around the country.

Shi-Jai, who hails from Myanmar's Mon State, says she earns about $10 a day at a port in Thailand's insurgency-hit south.

"It is not too much, but it is higher than I can earn at home," she says as a stern-faced supervisor prowls along the line of women -- and a handful of children -- sorting through the morning catch.

The workers live in scruffy dormitory blocks close to the port in Pattani in Thailand's deep south, where a near decade-long rebellion led by Muslim militants has claimed more than 5,700 lives.

Thailand is the world's third largest fish exporter by value, with sales worth around $7 billion a year.

But it is under international pressure to respond to reports of fishermen forced to work as virtual slaves under brutal conditions.

Earlier this month the International Labour Organisation (ILO) warned of "serious abuses" in the fishing industry such as forced labour and violence.

Ten percent of respondents to an ILO survey reported being severely beaten on board boats, while more than a quarter said they worked or were on call between 17 and 24 hours a day.

About 17 percent of the mainly undocumented Myanmar and Cambodian fishermen surveyed by the ILO in Thailand were forced to work under threat of financial penalty, violence or denunciation to the authorities.

The European Union and United States, which are major markets for Thai seafood products, have vowed to jointly combat illegal and unregulated fishing.

Thailand sits near the bottom of an annual US people trafficking report and must improve its efforts on combating forced labour or face relegation next year -- which could trigger cuts in non-humanitarian and non-trade US aid.

But for many migrant workers, high unemployment in their native countries is the biggest worry.

"We can't find work in Cambodia so we have to come here," said 21-year-old fisherman Makaa, whose weather-beaten face gives him the appearance of a much older man.

"Some people have work permits, some don't... but we all need jobs," he said.

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