By Zaw Zaw Htwe
Myanmar fishermen who were enslaved on Thai fishing boats are calling on the government to help them secure their years of unpaid wages, they said in a press conference yesterday.
“That is our hard-earned money. We think our government should ask for our unpaid wages,” Ko Hlaing Min told media assembled at the Myanmar Journalist Network’s office yesterday. He said he had been forced to work on a Thai-owned vessel plying far-flung waters in Indonesia for about five years.
Over 2000 fishermen were found stranded on remote islands during a search and rescue mission conducted by the International Organization for Migration along with authorities from Myanmar and Indonesia last year. The men had worked for years hauling seafood, mostly without pay and without days off. Many told The Myanmar Times that they were beaten, while some said the captain would pour boiling water on them if they tried to sleep. In the end, they were marooned on, or escaped to, the islands.
The former fishermen staging the yesterday’s conference said 11 Myanmar workers had secured compensation from the Indonesian government for cooperating with a lawsuit. The 11 will be presented money on October 17 in Nay Pyi Taw.
“All the enslaved fishermen want to go themselves to the Thai embassy and demand their wages. But I have asked them not to do that but to instead wait to go through the proper government channels,” said Ko Hlaing Min, who added that there has been no government response so far.
Other fishermen present yesterday were more sceptical, citing the unfulfilled promises Myanmar government officials made to the worker when they were in Indonesian detention camps, including aid and job opportunities when they returned.
Instead, most of the returned fishermen have found themselves unemployed, and have been forced to try to make their living accepting whatever jobs they can come by, said Ko Tin Moe Oo, another of the returned fishermen.
“I had to work on a fishing boat for many years. I want to ask the government to help get my unpaid wages,” he said.
Ko Tin Moe Oo said he was sold to a Thai captain by a broker in 2009. His vessel illegally trawled Indonesia for six years, during which he was never paid.
Last year, a four-month investigation by the Associated Press revealed the link between trafficked fishermen and the international seafood supplied to and sold by major brands including Walmart. Thailand’s US$7 billion seafood industry is floated on the backs of mainly Myanmar migrant workers who are often sold or tricked into the trade.
Some of the repatriated fishermen were given compensation by the companies in a bid to end a wage dispute. The men who received payment for their years of labour, albeit delayed and only partially covering the unpaid wages, were not classified by the Myanmar authorities as having been trafficked.
Rescued Myanmar fishermen re-trafficked in home waters
YANGON – Four Myanmar fishermen who were enslaved on Thai fishing boats and later abandoned on remote Indonesian islands have recounted how they again became trapped on a trawler – this time in their home country.
Last week, following another rescue, they told The Myanmar Times the abuse they had endured in Myanmar was beyond anything they had experienced overseas and called on the government to immediately launch.
The four fishermen from Kayin State’s Myawady township had ventured to Ah Sin village in Mon State in May this year, where a friend helped them to find work on a local boat.
At first, all seemed to be going well. They found jobs easily enough onboard the Khit Lu Ngal, a vessel owned by an Ah Sin villager. They were promised monthly wages of 100,000 kyat each.
But after plying the Andaman Sea for a month, they realised they were trapped, and had been trafficked once again, they said.
“We faced an even worse situation in the Myanmar fishing industry than in Indonesia. Fisherman are always being beaten by the helmsmen [in Myanmar]” said Ko Hlaing Min, who had previously been enslaved for 5 years on a boat in Indonesia. “We were forced to work for about 19 hours every day. We didn’t bathe for a whole month. We want the government to know that the plight of enslaved Myanmar fishermen is worse in our own country than it is overseas,” he said.
Fisherman Ko Thant Zin, who had previously worked in a form of indentured servitude on a boat in Indonesia for 8 years, said he was nearly beaten to death by the Myanmar helmsman.
“Although I cried for mercy by hugging his leg, he only stopped beating me when his stick broke,” he said.
Ko Thant Zin said he had been beaten because another man had not woken up to take over from him on sentry duty.
The four men were rescued by the human trafficking police taskforce after Ko Hlaing Min reported what was happening to Daw Ohnmar Ei Ei Chaw, country program coordinator at the Australia-Asia Program to Combat Trafficking in Persons.
The rescued fishermen say that there are hundreds of others also working as slaves on Myanmar fishing boats off the coast of Mon State and Tanintharyi Region. They say that many people are sold to fishing boats by brokers where they do not get paid and are subjected to physical abuse.
The four victims said that currently in Myanmar there are no officials or departments dedicated to tackling the issue, as is the case in Indonesia, where authorities conduct checks of the fishermen’s identities or of the number of fishermen on boats when they leave or return to shore.
The rescued men called on the government to save the hundreds of other people who are being abused and exploited on fishing boats in Myanmar.
This is not the first reporting of such abuse on Myanmar fishing boats on the Andaman Sea. In July of this year, another human trafficking case was uncovered in Ah Sin village.
In that case, 11 people were also sold to a fishing boat in Ah Sin village by a broker where they were forced to work without pay and were subjected to horrific conditions. They were rescued by the human-trafficking taskforce on July 8 and 12 after they made a plea for help to the Confederation of Trade Unions Myanmar.
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Tags: back-pay, Chinese fishermen, enslaved Myanmar fishermen, environmental, Filipino fishermen, fishermen, fishing, food security, human rights, human trafficking, illegal fishing, Indonesia, International Organization for Migration, Ko Hlaing Min, Ko Tin Moe Oo, Myanmar, Myanmar fishermen, Myanmar government, Philippines, seafood, Seafood industry migrant workers, slavery, slavery in shrimp industry, slaves, South China Sea, Thai fishing boats, Thailand, Trafficking in Persons, unpaid wages, Vietnam, Vietnamese