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Following the US State Department downgrading Thailand to a Tier 3 ranking – the lowest – in its 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report, Phuket has set up a committee to work on illegal foreign labour suppression and management.
The announcement came from Governor, Nisit Jansomwong, following instructions from the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) to adhere urgently to the US Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) or face consequences that could effect the country.
“We cannot simply arrest illegal labourers as we usually do. It is not the only way to solve the problem,” said the governor.
He explained that efforts are now being made to improve working and living conditions for foreign labourers in Phuket.
“There are a lot more factors that we have to consider and that is why we now have a committee.
“The committee, comprising several involved sectors – for example, the Labour Office, Marine Office, Fisheries Office, and Public Health Office – will integrate their work.
“This is not only about the workers’ legal status. We also have to consider their basic needs, safety, hygiene and health, work contracts (whether they are fair or not), working hours, wages, welfare and so on.
“We also have to educate them about the relevant laws.
“There are many aspects that our committee will cover,” he said.
First on the agenda for suppression and management are fishing boats and construction labour camps which use many labourers from neighboring countries, especially Myanmar.
“There are 83,003 Burmese labourers in the registration system right now,” he noted.
“The provincial committee will have to make a draft strategy for the suppression and management committee. The team will then send a letter showing a list of things the operators who employ foreign labour must adhere to.
“We will then carry out unannounced spot checks. We must make Thailand pass Tier 3, and improve the labourers’ quality of life.
“There will be more and more foreign labourers coming to Thailand from neighboring countries following the inauguration of the Asean Economic Community [at the end of 2015], and we have to get ready for it,” he said.
The US State Department pulls no punches in its report, which begins, “Thailand is a source, destination, and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking.”
It notes, “In the 2012 and 2013 TIP Reports, Thailand was granted consecutive waivers from an otherwise required downgrade to Tier 3 on the basis of a written plan to bring itself into compliance with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.
“The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) authorizes a maximum of two consecutive waivers. A waiver is no longer available to Thailand, which is therefore deemed not to be making significant efforts to comply with the minimum standards and is placed on Tier 3.”
Responding to this criminal aspect of Thailand’s problems, the governor said that human trafficking, including slavery and forced prostitution, are also targets of the committee’s campaign.
“These are the main issues that the integrated committee will be working on. When illegal labour such as this is found, the victims will be rescued by the relevant department.
“For example, the Phuket Provincial Social Development and Human Security Office will take care of people forced into prostitution or under-age labour.
“The officers will provide shelter and appropriate treatment until they have improved physically and mentally to the point where they can decide whether they want to go home or register as foreign workers – provided that they are of legal age to work.
“It will be the same for other labourers forced to work. They will be rescued by the team. Those who do not hold a license to work will be sent home while labourers who are registered can choose to stay or leave.”
As for slavery aboard ships, particularly fishing boats, he told The Phuket News, “The boat operator will definitely be punished according to the anti-human trafficking act.”
Very few arrests are made in Phuket for human trafficking. The last that made it into the limelight was in June last year.
Thailand was in Tier 2 of the three tiers in the US system until 2010 when it was downgraded to Tier 3 Watchlist (a probationary ranking) and then, last year, to Tier 3.