Rare Thai labour win as tuna factory pays out $1.3 million

Bangkok, March 1

A Thai tuna processing factory has agreed to pay staff $1.3 million compensation for a litany of labour abuses, an official said today, a rare victory for migrant workers in kingdom’s scandal-stricken seafood industry.

Hundreds of Myanmar labourers at Golden Prize Tuna Canning, a processing plant in Samut Sakhon that sells fish to markets around the globe, have spent months seeking compensation for exploitative working conditions. Thailand is the world’s third-largest seafood exporter, but the industry is plagued with rights abuses and fuelled by trafficked labour from neighbouring Myanmar and Cambodia.

The sector has come under heightened scrutiny from foreign governments over past year, with EU currently weighing an all-out ban on Thai fishing products.

The US also passed a bill last week outlawing goods produced by forced labour that could see Thailand targeted with import bans.

Rights groups say Golden Prize workers had long been subject to unlawfully low salaries, supervisor abuse and a lack of compensation for machine accidents on the 25-acre processing sites.

Following a more than 1,000-strong worker strike last week, company representatives joined negotiations with military officers, government officials and migrant worker leaders, reaching an agreement late Monday evening.

“The company began paying 1,100 workers last night involving money of 48 million baht ($1.3 million),” Boonlue Sartpetch, head of province’s labour department, said today. He said 700 workers have been paid, with the rest expected to receive compensation today.

Golden Prize Tuna Canning, whose 2,000 workers hail mostly from Myanmar, declined to comment.

The junta that seized power in a 2014 coup has struggled to revive Thailand’s flagging economy and is desperate to avoid any costly sanctions on the multi-billion dollar seafood sector.

It remains to be seen how Washington will enforce its new legislation on slave-produced goods. But the US

labour department currently lists Thai fish and shrimp as products the government has reason to believe are manufactured by slave labour.