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Govt boosts anti-trafficking push

Bangkok Post - 13 January 2015 - Fisheries have 60 days to adhere to new laws

The government has cranked up its drive against human trafficking by setting deadlines for action and reports.

This follows a key meeting last Wednesday, chaired by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who demanded immediate, monthly reports of action taken on cases of human trafficking, not only in the fisheries industry, but also concerning children, women, and forced and migrant labour.

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan and other deputy prime ministers, ministers and deputy ministers from Tourism and Sports, Social Development and Human Security, Agriculture and Cooperatives, Transport, Commerce, Interior, Justice, Labour, Foreign Affairs, as well as the chiefs of the army, navy, air force and police attended.

In response, Gen Prawit yesterday called a meeting of various agencies to set deadlines to implement changes to the Fisheries Act which have just been approved by the National Legislative Assembly.

Thailand, and its fisheries industry in particular, has faced widespread criticism since it was downgraded to Tier 3 (the lowest rank) from Tier 2 in the US Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP) last year.

Pressure has also increased for Thailand to abide by the European Union's international fishing standards related to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU).

Last year, the Prayut government responded to the TIP downgrade by facilitating the registration of foreign workers. To date, about 1.6 million have registered.

The process of verifying their nationalities is under way and is expected to be completed by March this year.

Although no official figures are available, international agencies estimate that Thailand's US$8-billion (263-billion-baht) industry employs about 300,000 workers. The International Labour Organisation estimates that 17% of workers on Thai fishing boats have experienced forced labour.

The Fisheries Department yesterday was ordered by Gen Prawit to complete subsidiary laws and regulations related to IUU within 60 days.

Mobile units from the Fisheries, Harbour, Customs and Local Administration departments are to finalise registration of boats and issuing of licences by the end of next month.

In an interview with the Bangkok Post yesterday, Gen Prawit said checks against violations of the new Fisheries Act would be carried out within 60 days by various agencies, including the Fisheries and Harbour departments as well as the navy and marine police.

"I also ordered checks on the registration of foreign labourers and their contracts following amendments to the labour law governing fishing," he said.

These checks, as well as checks on fishing licences, would require joint coordination by the Fisheries and Labour departments, customs, navy and marine police, as well as officials from the Social and Human Security Ministry.

"Port in and port out checks will be required from March onward," he said.

Next month, the Harbour Department has been tasked with issuing regulations for the installation of Vehicle Monitoring Systems (VMS) on fishing boats by the end of next month.

About 8,000 fishing vessels ranging from 30 to 60 tonnes are required to have VMS installed within three months after the regulations are finalised and announced.

Officials estimate that there are about 3,500 vessels at 60 tonnes operating in the country and they must have the VMS installed within three months after regulations are announced.

The Harbour Department, navy and marine police are then expected to check installation of the system between March-May this year, Gen Prawit said.

For smaller vessels ranging from 30-60 gross tonnes — estimated to number about 4,500 — installation of VMS and checks are to start in May and be completed by July.

The ministries involved have good intentions but they require better coordination, Gen Prawit said, referring to the problems of human trafficking in general as well as problems in the fisheries industry.

The officials do work, but there are no reports and this opens us up to accusations, Gen Prawit said. In the past, Thai laws were not comprehensive and were not up to international standards.

But all that has now changed, he said, adding that Prime Minister Prayut was very serious about tackling human trafficking across the board.

Gen Prawit says the government has already completed a progress report on what it has done to combat human trafficking which will cover all areas.

This report will be used as a key document in updating other governments, media, NGOs and international organisations on the work that has been done so far in Thailand.

The report will be translated in time for the visit of US Assistant Secretary of State, Daniel Russel, who will visit Thailand on Jan 26.

Mr Russel is expected to meet top Thai officials to discuss the current political situation, including martial law, and the charter drafting and political reform process. He is also expected to pay a visit to Myanmar.

During his meeting on human trafficking last Wednesday, Gen Prayut demanded action and not just words from all the ministries involved.

He demanded "just but swift and tough" action on seven lawsuits related to exploitation of children in agriculture and fisheries, as well as 300 cases of trafficking which have been pending since his government took office.

The police chief was ordered to report real progress on these cases to the prime minister as soon as possible or at the latest by the end of March, 2015, sources close to Gen Prayut said.

The prime minister reiterated that swift and just law enforcement is critical to boosting public confidence and ensuring that all are protected and safe to live their lives with human dignity.

To fight against all forms of human trafficking systematically, the prime minister instructed all agencies concerned to continue their efforts according to the approved plans of the five sub-committees established to address the problem of human trafficking in the fisheries industry, child prostitution, and forced and migrant labour, to name a few.

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