Paing Paing earned his living as a fisherman in Thai deep-sea fishing. He gazed out to sea and the open sea was his world and it was a hard life. He dreamt of staying with his family, investing a lot of energy in fishing for his family. “ A living reality was worse; frankly speaking , we had to work outside the law, struggling more than 16 hours a day,” he recounted his personal experience.
Brokers came to our villages to look for those who are eager to work to earn some money domestic or foreign. In addition, family members and relatives believed easily in those human traffickers, falling right into their traps. Some brokers sent them directly to the owners of fishing trawlers; some had to contact them indirectly. Through different links some Myanmar youths went to Thailand , shouldering heavy burden of debts. Very few fishermen knew they had been working under fake documents. These occurrences happened during 1990s.
Fishing trawlers are still found to fish illegally near the Thai borders or Myanmar territory, according to some estimates of International Labour Organization. Due to collective investigations, some Thai owners showed three or four fishing trawlers for the sake of taxation; the rest are stationed permanently to continue illegal deep-sea fishing at sea.
Isara is a group which helps the employees including fishermen who have lost their basic human rights. The group interviewed 15 Myanmar fishermen who had been trafficked to work in Thai deep-sea fishing; they were sent back to Myanmar society after recalling their experiences and difficulties : the brokers faked their salaries and work and contact with family members; brokers tricked on the employees in collaboration with boat owners; corrupt police sold them back to human traffickers and bullying, threatening and frightening them, according to a survey by International Labor Organization.
“ In 2015, Thai government allowed registered fishing trawlers in their waters. For example, before letting the trawlers go out for fishing , examination of a number of crew is carried out; Myanmar crew were left behind in the sea; in this way they had to spend in sea or on islands for months; and through a lack of extensive search and arrest, the crew secretly came to land. Some crew while on land and thinking of abandoning the boat, they realized they had no legal documents to go anywhere. Once the trawlers dock into dock, the crew are closed or cornered.” In accordance with investigations by the Associated Press about the Bungina accident, as many as 1000 sailors or crew were sent back to their respective countries in cooperation with their governments.
Free but without getting any chance
After spending several years on the islands , fishermen were swindled out of five-year earnings by promising in a matter of few months; after rescue they had to spend some years for the second time in guest-houses. “ we were rescued as we were in trouble. We were put in guest houses if something happened. This is the second time I had been trafficked and stayed at a guest house more than a year. We had to abide by strict laws; we had to deal with officers cleverly; while in court, we had to restrain ourselves from saying something rude. Again under investigation we had to rely on the interpreters. When Myanmar authorities concerned came to us, we were very happy. For most of the time strict actions were not taken against us. After all, our salaries amounted to more than a million Baht. Not settled yet, but legal proceedings went on as usual. Little support from our side. It all happened in Thailand. Thanks for authorities who brought us back to our homeland.” Ko Myo recounted his personal experiences while he stayed in a guest house facing charges against him.
Existing standards for fishermen for those fishermen working in fishing trawlers, they are allowed to take a rest for an hour a day and seven hours within a week according to Thai Laws. Myanmar workers are not in a position to know these rules and regulations: duration of working hours, overtime earnings and cut-backs in salaries.
Why are we suffering like this?
Due to lack of knowledge about Thai laws; working rules and regulations for Myanmar workers; Very few people go to Thailand with work permits; easily falling into a trick of lies and deceits, according to estimates of Isara Institue. On the Myanmar workers’ side when in trouble, they are very weak in solving their problems; they haven’t made any enquiries about the work and salaries and not conversant about working conditions when they are in need. Myanmar workers should be prevented not to go without any preparations and documents.
“Our workers are highly exploited in terms of workforce, services, trafficking and other matters; The standard of accountability and responsibility. For instance a certain brand cannot measure the only quality of the material. Where do they get raw materials from? Step-by –step inspection is carried out to put the end products on the shelves in the market.
That is why fishermen as well as factory workers could send their complaint about how raw materials are obtained and which brand belongs to whom. The end products made with full rights should go to real consumers. This kind of practice is being done internationally” said Daw Ei Ei Chaw, Excutive director from Myanmar Isara.
Isara Institue in cooperation with Departments of Labor, Immigration and Manpower have held workshops since 3 April for migrant workers on how to avoid dangers and health hazards; to submit a survey report on them and ways and means of protecting Myanmar migrant workers with a close cooperation with civil departments.
In this way, ways and means of protecting Myanmar migrant workers including fishermen and their working conditions in fishing trawlers and factories will soon be successfully carried out in the near future.
Translated by Arakan Sein