Gov’t Opens Office in Thailand to Assist Myanmar Fishing Boat Workers

By Lawi Weng 24 September 2018

Myanmar yesterday opened a “one-stop” office in southern Thailand’s Ranong province to facilitate the recruitment of Myanmar migrant workers by Thai fishing companies and to provide any assistance the workers may need, according to migrant labor advocacy groups in Thailand.

The office will handle Thai visa renewals for workers so they don’t need to return to Myanmar. Myanmar officials at the office will also cooperate with the Thai Labor Ministry to assess the Myanmar workers’ skills and monitor the working conditions on board fishing boats.

The office will help to implement a memorandum of understanding (MoU) the Myanmar government signed with Thailand in 2016, in which it agreed to send 42,000 workers to crew fishing boats in Thailand. Some 9,000 workers will be sent in the initial batch.

U Myo Aung, permanent secretary for the Myanmar Ministry of Labor, Immigration and Population, told The Irrawaddy that the one-stop service was partly intended to help illegal migrants currently working in Thailand.

It will assist not only fishing-sector workers, but also other Myanmar migrants working in Thailand.

Myanmar signed the MoU with Thailand in 2016 after the National League for Democracy-led government took power. Fishermen already working in Thailand will soon be covered by all of the provisions and protections guaranteed under the MoU, according to U Myo Aung.

“We have not had an agreement with Thailand officially providing fisheries workers before. This is the first time,” he said.

Ko Min Oo, who heads the Foundation for Education and Development (FED), an organization that helps migrant workers based in southern Thailand, said that before opening the one-stop office, the Myanmar government held a meeting with migrant organizations in Bangkok on Sept. 22 and asked for suggestions on what steps needed to be taken to ensure the migrant workers’ safety on board Thai fishing boats.

The MoU establishes a monthly wage of 12,000 Thai baht (about USD370) for fishing boat workers and entitles them to a two-year working visa. The work visas for the estimated 11,000 Myanmar fishery workers currently in Thailand will expire at the end of this month. Myanmar migrant workers who experience maltreatment will be able to complain to Myanmar authorities at any time via the Ranong office.

The MoU will protect fishermen’s rights, Ko Min Oo said. Among its provisions is guaranteed life insurance for all Myanmar fisheries workers in Thailand. The workers are not currently provided with such coverage.

Thailand currently needs 9,000 laborers from Myanmar to work on boats based in three southern provinces—Phang Nga, Phuket and Ranong. Thai fishing companies will work with Myanmar labor-recruitment agencies to source migrant workers in the future.

Myanmar does not have many such agencies, according to FED, making it difficult to find skilled fishermen who have experience working on trawlers.

Some 22 Thai provinces have a fishing industry. Thailand has acquired a reputation as a human-trafficking hub, and work conditions for migrant laborers on Thai fishing boats are notoriously harsh. Bangkok hopes the signing of the MoU with the Myanmar government will boost the perception that it is meeting international standards for recruiting fishermen.

Ko Min Oo cautioned, however, that while Myanmar has a large pool of laborers, the country may find it difficult to provide 40,000 experienced fishing boat workers. Working on a fishing boat without acquiring the proper training ahead of time can be very dangerous, he said.

“New workers need basic training. If not, they will face many risks working on the boats,” Ko Min Oo said.