Formerly enslaved fishermen appeal to government for wages
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.
Seafood industry migrant workers hold a press event yesterday.