BANGKOK — An international human rights group urged Thailand’s government on Thursday to cancel a plan to encourage freed prisoners to work on fishing vessels, saying the industry abuses its workers.
The appeal by New York-based Human Rights Watch came after Thailand’s Labor Ministry announced plans last week for prisoners serving sentences of one year or less to work on fishing boats on a voluntary basis after being released.
“Thailand is the third largest exporter of seafood in the world, supplying supermarkets in Europe and North America,” Human Rights Watch said a statement. “It has long been accused of forcing Thai, Burmese, and Cambodian fishing crews to work in dirty, dangerous and difficult conditions.”
It said the problems include use of forced labor, physical abuse leading in some cases to extrajudicial killings, excessive work hours, non-payment of wages, inadequate food and medical care, and dangerous working conditions.
It said the abuses have been documented by many groups, including UN-affiliated organizations and Thai academic institutions.
“It is dangerously irresponsible for the Labor Ministry to urge prisoners to work on board Thailand’s notoriously abusive fishing fleets,” Brad Adams, the group’s Asia director, said in the statement. “The Labor Ministry can’t even figure out how to inspect such boats, let alone prevent hundreds of prisoners from being abused by fishing boat crews.”
Viwat Jiraphanvanich, a senior official at the Labor Ministry’s Employment Department, said Thursday the program could help ease labor shortages in the fishing industry and find jobs for released convicts.
“Moreover, those who want to do these jobs would be protected by law, which means their employers can’t abuse them or else face penalties,” he said.