The government increased efforts to prevent trafficking. The Prime Minister oversaw the government’s anti-trafficking efforts through the Supervisory Policy Committee on Addressing Trafficking in Persons and Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing. The Prime Minister’s office appointed two new senior advisory positions to supervise the government’s anti-trafficking activities and the government continued to monitor its progress to combat trafficking through data collection and annual reports to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. It conducted campaigns through newspapers, television, radio, social media, billboards, and handouts to raise public awareness throughout the country. MSDHS and MOL operated hotlines with operators fluent in 12 foreign languages. In 2018, government hotlines received 161 calls related to possible trafficking cases, including at least 18 involving forced labor (172 calls in 2017 and 269 calls in 2016), leading to the prosecution of 63 cases (73 cases in 2017). The government employed 84 language coordinators (74 in 2017) and 69 interpreters (74 in 2017) in 2018. Nonetheless, NGOs reported MSDHS did not consistently staff hotlines with interpreters.
Thai law permitted recruitment agencies to charge recruitment fees to Thais seeking overseas employment and excessive fees incurred by some workers made them vulnerable to debt bondage or other exploitative conditions. Through government-to-government formal migration channels, the government assisted 28,820 Thais to obtain employment abroad in 2018, including by providing job placement assistance. In addition, 14 provincial employment offices provided training, including on trafficking risks, to 4,624 Thai workers prior to their overseas employment. MOL officers screened the travel documents of departing Thai workers at border checkpoints and denied their departure if they deemed the documentation suspicious. In 2018, the government inspected 364 employment agencies that recruited Thai workers and found unlawful practices in seven, resulting in license suspensions and monetary seizures. It initiated prosecutions against 416 illegal brokers (287 in 2017) under the Employment and Job-Seeker Protection Act. The government continued to grant citizenship to stateless persons in 2018.
Weaknesses in Thailand’s labor laws preventing migrant workers from forming labor unions may have contributed to exploitation. The lack of a requirement that employment contracts be written in both Thai and workers’ languages, lack of clear guidance to measure work and rest hours for workers aboard fishing vessels, and difficulty for workers to change employers heightened the risk of trafficking. In addition, NGOs and international organizations widely reported the government did not adequately enforce minimum wage laws and lacked legislation mandating minimum wages in sectors with high employment of migrant workers, such as seasonal agriculture. A UN report found the median monthly wage for seasonal agricultural workers was 6,000 baht ($185), which was below the minimum wage in Thailand, which ranged from 8,008-8,580 baht ($248-$265) per month.
The Royal Ordinance on Management of Migrant Workers, which took effect in March 2018, required employers to provide workers a copy of their employment contracts and to cover costs (excluding personal expenses such as passports, medical checks, and work permits) associated with bringing migrant workers to Thailand and back to their home countries when employment ends, such as recruitment fees and transportation costs. The decree prohibited employers from deducting more than 10 percent of workers’ monthly salaries for personal expenses and the retention of travel or other personal documents; the law prescribed penalties of fines ranging from 10,000-100,000 baht ($309-$3,090) and up to six months’ imprisonment for employers who violated these rules. However, NGOs reported the regulations on recruitment fees were poorly defined and enforced, and recruitment agencies and brokers still required workers to pay recruitment fees and transportation costs. The government did not report investigating illegal salary deductions. In addition, employers rarely provided workers a contract to keep or in their language.
To facilitate the ability of undocumented migrant workers to register with the government, twelve “one stop” service centers operated by the governments of Burma, Cambodia, and Laos in Thailand conducted nationality verification for migrant workers, which allowed them to obtain identity documents without leaving Thailand. The government coordinated with these service centers to provide heath checks, collect biometric and personal data, and issue work permits to 1,187,803 workers in 2018. The complicated nature of government registration and, in many cases, low levels of literacy resulted in reliance on brokers who often overcharged workers to obtain documents, thereby increasing their vulnerability to debt bondage. Observers reported government policies contributed to the exploitation of migrants employed in Thai border regions, including within the 10 developing special economic zones. For example, the government allowed migrants to obtain 30-day and 90-day border passes to work in non-seasonal agricultural or manufacturing jobs but such temporary working arrangements did not provide workers access to social protections. NGOs reported employers increasingly encouraged workers to obtain these border passes.
While the number of migrant workers entering Thailand through bilateral MOUs continued to increase, high costs, difficulties in obtaining identity documents in home countries, and administrative barriers to change employers continued to impede greater usage of this mechanism. Provincial labor offices required workers recruited under MOUs to present many documents that workers often could not provide without brokers’ assistance in order to approve job changes. By law, MOU employers could recover costs associated with recruiting a migrant worker from the new employer when a worker requested to change jobs before the end of their employment contract; however, some employers charged these employees 20,000 baht ($618) to obtain their documents, making workers susceptible to debt bondage. The government did not report investigating employers who illegally charged fees to such migrant workers. The government opened two new post-arrival and reintegration centers (five total) that assisted migrant workers who entered Thailand through the MOU process by providing information on labor rights, Thai culture, employment contracts, trafficking awareness, and complaint mechanisms; in 2018, 442,736 migrant workers received assistance at these centers. Nonetheless, observers reported labor officials interviewed workers in the presence of their employers and brokers at post-arrival centers, which could deter workers from reporting exploitation. MOL also worked with NGOs to provide services at 10 migrant worker assistance centers; however, observers reported minimal efforts by these centers to increase outreach and build trust with local civil society organizations tended to deter NGOs from referring exploited workers to the centers. The government worked with NGO-operated centers located near fishing markets to provide skills training, health screenings, and other resources to raise awareness of workers’ rights. In 2018, the government inspected 67 migrant worker recruitment agencies (compared to 97 in 2017) and found four operating in violation of the law.
The Ministerial Regulation on Labor Protection for Sea Fishers, which took effect in April 2018, required Thai vessels operating outside Thai waters to provide messaging data to workers for communicating with government agencies and personal contacts. It also required employers to pay salaries at least once per month through electronic deposits and to share catch profits. While the electronic payment system increased the ability of labor inspectors to verify wage payments, observers reported concerns that some workers were unable to access their funds due to a lack of ATMs near some ports, insufficient training on how to use the system, and the withholding of workers’ ATM cards and PINs by vessel owners, captains, or brokers.
The Command Center for Combatting Illegal Fishing (CCCIF), led by the Royal Thai Navy, operated 32 port-in port-out (PIPO) centers and 19 additional forward inspection points, which performed inspections to verify whether fishing vessels were operating legally. CCCIF implemented a system to inspect vessels based on risk assessments and reported it inspected all vessels placed in the “high-risk” category, as well as a percentage of medium- and low-risk vessels. Labor inspectors working in PIPO teams verified crew lists using biometric data and worker interviews. The government required fishing vessels operating in Thai waters to return to ports every 30 days and strictly regulated long-haul Thai-flagged vessels from operating in international waters. PIPO centers conducted 78,623 inspections in 2018 and found 511 vessels operating in violation of the law. However, the government did not report whether labor inspections resulted in the identification of any trafficking victims. Civil society organizations noted inconsistent interview practices, inspections conducted without interpreters, and inspection practices that enabled owners, captains, or brokers to determine which workers reported exploitation to inspectors, thereby deterring workers from revealing information due to fears of retaliation. Civil society and government officials expressed concerns that varying levels of enforcement at PIPO centers encouraged some boat captains to choose ports with weaker inspections and enforcement.
Officials inspected 7,497 adult entertainment businesses in 2018, leading to the prosecution of seven trafficking cases and the five-year suspension of licenses of 97 businesses for unspecified violations of law. In 2018, the Department of Labour Protection and Welfare conducted 1,906 inspections at high-risk workplaces, including sugarcane farms, garment factories, shrimp and fish processing facilities, pig farms, and poultry farms, finding 388 workplaces operating in violation of labor laws. In 2018, the government conducted 259 labor inspections at on-land seafood processing workplaces and found 88 cases of labor law violations. The government made efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. To discourage child sex tourism, the government coordinated with foreign governments to deny entry to known sex offenders, and produced and displayed a video discouraging child sex tourism in Thai airports and on Thai airline flights. The Ministry of Tourism organized a seminar with government officials, businesses, tourism professionals, and others to raise awareness of trafficking in tourism industries.