For­merly en­slaved fish­er­men ap­peal to govern­ment for wages

The Myanmar Times - - News - ZAW ZAW HTWE za­wza­whtwe@mm­times.com

MYAN­MAR fish­er­men who were en­slaved on Thai fish­ing boats are call­ing on the govern­ment to help them se­cure their years of un­paid wages, they said in a press con­fer­ence yes­ter­day.

“That is our hard-earned money. We think our govern­ment should ask for our un­paid wages,” Ko Hlaing Min told me­dia as­sem­bled at the Myan­mar Jour­nal­ist Net­work’s of­fice yes­ter­day. He said he had been forced to work on a Thai-owned ves­sel ply­ing far-flung wa­ters in In­done­sia for about five years.

By Ko Hlaing Min’s count, 419 Myan­mar traf­fick­ing vic­tims were res­cued and sent home last year. They are now ask­ing the govern­ment to get in­volved in their cam­paign for lon­gover­due back­pay.

Over 2000 fish­er­men were found stranded on re­mote is­lands dur­ing a search and res­cue mis­sion con­ducted by the In­ter­na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Mi­gra­tion along with au­thor­i­ties from Myan­mar and In­done­sia last year. The men had worked for years haul­ing seafood, mostly with­out pay and with­out days off. Many told The Myan­mar Times that they were beaten, while some said the cap­tain would pour boil­ing wa­ter on them if they tried to sleep. In the end, they were ma­rooned on, or es­caped to, the is­lands.

The for­mer fish­er­men stag­ing the yes­ter­day’s con­fer­ence said 11 Myan­mar work­ers had se­cured com­pen­sa­tion from the In­done­sian govern­ment for co­op­er­at­ing with a law­suit. The 11 will be pre­sented money on Oc­to­ber 17 in Nay Pyi Taw.

“All the en­slaved fish­er­men want to go them­selves to the Thai em­bassy and de­mand their wages. But I have asked them not to do that but to in­stead wait to go through the proper govern­ment chan­nels,” said Ko Hlaing Min, who added that there has been no govern­ment re­sponse so far.

Other fish­er­men present yes­ter­day were more scep­ti­cal, cit­ing the un­ful­filled prom­ises Myan­mar govern­ment of­fi­cials made to the worker when they were in In­done­sian de­ten­tion camps, in­clud­ing aid and job op­por­tu­ni­ties when they re­turned.

In­stead, most of the re­turned fish­er­men have found them­selves un­em­ployed, and have been forced to try to make their liv­ing ac­cept­ing what­ever jobs they can come by, said Ko Tin Moe Oo, an­other of the re­turned fish­er­men.

“I had to work on a fish­ing boat for many years. I want to ask the govern­ment to help get my un­paid wages,” he said.

Ko Tin Moe Oo said he was sold to a Thai cap­tain by a bro­ker in 2009. His ves­sel il­le­gally trawled In­done­sia for six years, dur­ing which he was never paid.

Last year, a four-month in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the As­so­ci­ated Press re­vealed the link be­tween traf­ficked fish­er­men and the in­ter­na­tional seafood supplied to and sold by ma­jor brands in­clud­ing Wal­mart. Thai­land’s US$7 bil­lion seafood in­dus­try is floated on the backs of mainly Myan­mar mi­grant work­ers who are of­ten sold or tricked into the trade.

Some of the repa­tri­ated fish­er­men were given com­pen­sa­tion by the com­pa­nies in a bid to end a wage dis­pute. The men who re­ceived pay­ment for their years of labour, al­beit de­layed and only par­tially cov­er­ing the un­paid wages, were not clas­si­fied by the Myan­mar au­thor­i­ties as hav­ing been traf­ficked.

Photo: Zaw Zaw Htwe

Seafood in­dus­try mi­grant work­ers hold a press event yes­ter­day.

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