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Thai shrimp processor in midst of migrant worker protests blames EMS, loss of GSP

Undercurrent News - 6 February 2015 - Shrimp processor Crystal Frozen Foods, a member of the Thai Frozen Foods Association (TFFA), is working to resolve a labor rights dispute which has arisen this year.

Shrimp processor Crystal Frozen Foods, a member of the Thai Frozen Foods Association (TFFA),  is working to resolve a labor rights dispute which has arisen this year.

As the Thai Labor Protection Office and the NGO Migrant Worker Rights Network (MWRN) also work to try and mediate the protests, which arose over an apparent failure to pay minimum legal wage and the appropriate dismissal compensation, the exporter has moved to take a loan in order to pay the legal amount required, Crystal’s managing director, Pornchat Achakulwisut, told Undercurrent News.

On Feb. 5, some 150 Myanmar migrant workers reportedly submitted complaints to the Labor Protection Office at Mahachai, Samut Sakhorn province, accompanied by migrant rights groups.

The complaint, echoed by a reported 200 protesting outside the factory on Feb 2, concerned how the factory has allegedly continued failing to meet the minimum legal wage of THB 300 per day, and/or provide an eight hour working day to its migrant employees, according to the Facebook page of human rights campaigner Andy Hall.

In addition, the factory had apparently still not addressed two previous complaints already filed against it in December 2014 and January 2015, regarding the alleged failure to pay the minimum wage, and unlawfully terminating the employment of over 180 Myanmar migrant workers.

However, as of Feb. 6 the news looks brighter, with campaigners hearing that Achakulwisut is working to pay the workers in full – THB 10,000 each in compensation.

“Our business operation is based mainly on farmed vannamei shrimp which has been affected by the EMS [early mortality syndrome] crisis during the past two years, causing high mortality rates of farmed shrimp in Thailand,” said Achakulwisut.

“The loss of GSP [EU Generalized System of Preferences tariffs] privileges for Thai products has also eroded our price competitiveness further, and we have been struggling to keep our customers for value-added products with vannamei-based raw materials. Our efforts seem to be in vain after we completed all pending orders for the Christmas season in Europe last October 2014.”

Despite efforts to find new markets and business for its value-added production line during the second half of 2014, Crystal was unable to replace the lost market, leaving its processing line idle.

With the worsening cashflow position and shrinking sales revenue, it had to shut down the value-added processing line permanently, and terminate employment for workers employed in that production line, he explained.

The company has been working with the Samutsakorn Labor Office to ensure the correct compensation is paid out – which it is required to do within 60 days – and also to find jobs for the workers at a tuna processing plant, unaffected by the EMS crisis.

All of the dismissed workers were found employment with the tuna company, and have been working there for two weeks, said Achakulwisut.

Once the firm has established who exactly needs to be compensated – some of the Myanmar workers were found to still be working at the factory, the managing director said – Crystal will attempt to secure non-bank loans to pay out, by Feb. 10.

“We still have another 280 active workers working with us as of today, and we are trying hard to keep our company afloat by switching to process more sea catch products like squid and fish fillets,” said Achakulwisut.

The TFFA, meanwhile, has said that if Crystal is found to have acted improperly, it will be dismissed from the organization – meaning it could no longer export from Thailand, by far its main business.

"The TFFA has been well aware of the Crystal Frozen Foods dispute since December 2014, and has yet to take action against its member for the alleged rights violations, instead insisting that the government legal process has to be concluded first, and official information on violations presented to TFFA to consider how to deal with its member if they have violated the Labor Protection Act 1998,” noted Hall on his Facebook page, on Feb 5.

Complaints were first lodged with the province's Labor Protection Office in December 2014, over an alleged failure to pay minimum wage and unlawful deductions.

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