Tuna chal­lenge: Prob­lems re­main at Thai fac­to­ries us­ing Myan­mar work­ers

Prob­lems re­main at Thai fac­to­ries us­ing Myan­mar work­ers

Mizzima Business Weekly - - CONTENTS - Marc Ja­cob

Work­ing con­di­tions for mi­grant work­ers at Thai fac­to­ries that pro­duce tuna for Euro­pean mar­kets have im­proved, ac­cord­ing to a new fol­low-up re­port pub­lished by Fin­nwatch.

The pa­per fol­lows up on pre­vi­ous in­ves­ti­ga­tions eval­u­at­ing the tuna-pack­ing fac­to­ries’ work­ing con­di­tions, in par­tic­u­lar for mi­grant work­ers who are pri­mar­ily from Myan­mar and Cam­bo­dia.

The NGO is push­ing a cam­paign called Sup­ply Change aimed at en­cour­ag­ing su­per­mar­kets en­sure bet­ter work­ing con­di­tions at the start of the sup­ply chains.

On the plus side, the pass­ports of mi­grant work­ers are no longer con­fis­cated and they have writ­ten em­ploy­ment con­tracts; work safety has in­creased and so­cial se­cu­rity has im­proved.

Yet there are still prob­lems - pat­terns of work place dis­crim­i­na­tion are re­ported and some of the

mi­grant work­ers say that they have to pay high re­cruit­ment fees.

The NGO Fin­nwatch says to over­come the re­main­ing prob­lems co­op­er­a­tion is needed be­tween the fac­to­ries, re­tail­ers that pur­chase pro­duce from them, and or­gan­i­sa­tions that gen­uinely rep­re­sent the mi­grant work­ers.

“Mi­grant work­ers still find it dif­fi­cult to get their voices heard. The com­plaint mech­a­nisms and work­ers com­mit­tees at the fac­to­ries are not func­tion­ing as they should. Work­ers still can­not ne­go­ti­ate work­ing con­di­tions with their em­ployer,” said Sonja Var­tiala, Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor at Fin­nwatch.

The most sig­nif­i­cant short­com­ing that was found dur­ing the fol­low-up re­search con­cerns re­cruit­ment fees for mi­grant work­ers who en­ter Thai­land from Myan­mar through the of­fi­cial MoU-process. These work­ers have to pay the equiv­a­lent of hun­dreds of dol­lars in var­i­ous fees in or­der to take up em­ploy­ment at one of the Thai fac­to­ries sur­veyed.

“The lead­ing tuna fac­to­ries and the tuna in­dus­try in Thai­land must ban the col­lec­tion of re­cruit­ment fees from mi­grant work­ers. Euro­pean buy­ers must also in­clude such a ban to their so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity re­quire­ments,” says Ms Var­tiala.

The Euro­pean Union has taken steps to pre­vent illegal, un­re­ported and un­reg­u­lated fish­ing in Thai­land. The prob­lem is closely linked to the work­ing con­di­tions at fish­ing boats where there has been in­ci­dents of forced labour and traf­fick­ing in per­sons. The new re­port notes that the mon­i­tor­ing of the sup­ply chain of the fac­to­ries is still in its in­fancy.

“The fac­to­ries look to the Thai gov­ern­ment to in­tro­duce changes to the leg­is­la­tion or are just about to start their own mon­i­tor­ing,” says Ms Var­tiala.

The fac­to­ries in­cluded into the re­port Thai Union Man­u­fac­tur­ing and Uni­cord are part of Thai Union Group and the Sea Value Group and pro­duce pri­vate la­bel prod­ucts for the su­per­mar­kets in Bel­gium, the UK, Lithua­nia, Es­to­nia, Latvia, Fin­land, and Slove­nia. The re­port en­cour­ages the Euro­pean buy­ers to work more closely to­gether to en­sure bet­ter work­ing con­di­tions.

Fin­nwatch says that through au­dits alone it is dif­fi­cult to achieve the nec­es­sary changes. Find­ing so­lu­tions to the re­main­ing prob­lems re­gard­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion, re­cruit­ment, and work­ers weak bar­gain­ing power re­quires gen­uine co­op­er­a­tion and di­a­logue be­tween the in­dus­try rep­re­sen­ta­tives, buy­ers, and lo­cal work­ers or­gan­i­sa­tions.

One mi­grant work­ers rights group that has been mak­ing ef­forts to im­prove the sit­u­a­tion is the Mi­grant Worker Rights Net­work. MWRN In­ter­na­tional Af­fairs ad­vi­sor Andy Hall told Mizzima Weekly that although things were mov­ing for­ward there are still a lot of chal­lenges in im­prov­ing the work­ing and hir­ing con­di­tions of mi­grant work­ers.

He pointed to is­sues with re­cruit­ment, with in­suf­fi­cient rep­re­sen­ta­tion, and with the bro­kers, who make money out of the hir­ing process.

Mr Hall says there has been a lot of talk from the Thai gov­ern­ment about try­ing to im­prove con­di­tions, but it is still too early to tell whether that much has been done. He spoke of a “real re­luc­tance” to bring about mean­ing­ful change to a sit­u­a­tion that has been go­ing on for years.

One area that is prov­ing dif­fi­cult to in­ves­ti­gate and po­lice is the high seas. The UK-based NGO En­vi­ron­men­tal Jus­tice Foun­da­tion re­leased a re­search re­port in April 2015 en­ti­tled “Slav­ery At Sea”, which re­vealed on­go­ing cases of traf­fick­ing and forced labour, and pointed to Thai author­i­ties as com­plicit in the crimes.

Dis­crim­i­na­tion would ap­pear to be the key con­cern for for­eign mi­grant work­ers at sea or on land in the fac­to­ries. All the work­ers in­ter­viewed by Fin­nwatch say that there are many kinds of dis­crim­i­na­tion tak­ing place at work.

Mi­grant work­ers from Myan­mar com­plain that er­rors made by mi­grant work­ers are met with con­sid­er­ably less tol­er­ance than those made by Thai work­ers. The in­ter­vie­wees say that Thai work­ers may come in late to work with­out the su­per­vi­sor ad­dress­ing the mat­ter, but Myan­mar work­ers who come in late get a warn­ing im­me­di­ately. The work­ers also in­sist that line su­per­vi­sors use un­ortho­dox pun­ish­ment meth­ods: if a su­per­vi­sor does not like a cer­tain worker, he or she is trans­ferred to a more un­pleas­ant duty on the pro­duc­tion line, where work is harder.

The in­ter­viewed work­ers state that Myan­mar work­ers may easily get fired for mak­ing the same mis­takes for which Thai work­ers only get a warn­ing.

One of the Thai fac­to­ries sur­veyed boasted that it has a very strict pol­icy against dis­crim­i­na­tion. Reg­u­la­tions against dis­crim­i­na­tion for­bid dis­crim­i­na­tion based on race, caste, na­tion­al­ity, re­li­gion, age, hand­i­cap, gen­der, mar­i­tal sta­tus, preg­nancy, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, pro­fes­sional as­so­ci­a­tion and po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­ity in re­cruit­ing, pay­ment of salary, train­ing of em­ploy­ees, pro­mo­tion and ter­mi­nat­ing em­ploy­ment.

In the an­swer pro­vided by the fac­tory to Fin­nwatch, it said that the up­per man­age­ment will re­mind the fac­tory su­per­vi­sors and line su­per­vi­sors about the fac­tory’s pol­icy against dis­crim­i­na­tion so as to en­sure that all the em­ploy­ees are treated prop­erly. The top man­age­ment of the fac­tory also plans to es­tab­lish a spe­cial work­ing group for ex­am­in­ing re­ported is­sues re­lated to the ac­tions of su­per­vi­sors and line su­per­vi­sors.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Myanmar

© PressReader. All rights reserved.