ILO says Thailand has improved with regard to underage workers
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) recently suggested Thailand had made good progress towards solving the problem of child labour, especially within the shrimp and seafood processing industries.
Thailand has ratified ILO convention No 182 which seeks to eliminate the worst forms of child labour. The convention establishes the framework designed to prevent the worst child labour abuses, primarily focusing on the sale and trafficking of children, and the procuring or offering of children for prostitution. This last element, sadly, is one of the most difficult to eradicate, simply because of the large sums of money involved and the corruption which tends to reach to much higher levels than might be imagined.
The ILO has been working with the Thai government and relevant private sector organizations for the past two years in order to tackle the worst abuses surrounding child labour. One of the main industries outside of prostitution which is noted for child labour abuse is the shrimp and seafood processing sector.
According to a survey undertaken by ILO officials between March and August 2013, there were upwards of 8,000 underage children employed in the shrimp and seafood processing industries, many from illegal migrant families. The main provinces where these children, all under the age of 18, could be found were Songkhla, Nakhon Sri Thammarat, Surat Thani, and Samut Sakhon.
Many of the children had no access to education because of their parents’ illegal status. Within Thai families, simple lack of funds and the need to have everyone trying to earn some kind of living meant children were sent out for employment as soon as practicable.
The minimum age for employment under the Labour Protection Act is 15. The legislation also stipulates that those aged between 15 and 18 are allowed to do only non-hazardous jobs. Naturally, as with so many laws in Thailand, they are routinely ignored or circumvented.
The United States has included Thailand on its Tier 2 Watch List of goods and products produced by child or forced labour, as defined by the US Department of Labour. Thailand has been on this list for the past four successive years and there has been talk that it risks being downgraded to Tier 3 in the next evaluation. If this were to take place it would mean a series of trade sanctions being imposed, a situation which would impact on a number of exported products, but more importantly shed an unflattering light on labour practices within Thailand.
The permanent secretary for labour has been quoted as saying that Thailand will be doing its best to avoid a downgrade, but just as importantly work hard to have itself removed from the Tier 2 Watch list.