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 the government continued to monitor its progress to combat trafficking through data collection and annual reports to the prime minister and the Cabinet. In 2019, the government allocated approximately 3.8 billion baht ($127.9 million) towards its prevention and suppression of trafficking budget, compared to approximately 3.64 billion ($122.3 million) allocated in 2018. It conducted campaigns through newspapers, television, radio, social media, billboards, and handouts to raise public awareness throughout the country. Officials conducted numerous outreach activities to raise awareness of trafficking among school children, teachers, and community leaders. In addition, the foreign affairs ministry produced and shared a video clip on television and social media that included indicators of trafficking among Thai nationals abroad and methods to report suspected cases. In January and March 2020, MSDHS hosted a forum with NGOs, government agencies, international organizations, and the private sector to discuss anti-trafficking efforts and encourage increased collaboration; the government collected recommendations from participants at the January forum and presented them to the anti-trafficking committee in March. In June 2019, the government published the first nationally representative survey of children in the workplace, which was produced in collaboration with an international organization, and found approximately 177,000 children were involved in child labor, including 133,000 in hazardous working conditions.
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-based coercion. Through government-to-government formal migration channels, the government assisted 11,886 Thais to obtain employment abroad in 2019, including by providing job placement assistance. In addition, 14 provincial employment offices provided training, including on trafficking risks, to 4,803 Thai workers prior to their overseas employment. In November 2019, the Department of Employment (DOE) signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the South Korean Immigration Service that aimed to increase coordination to address the prevalence of undocumented Thai migrants working in South Korea and to prevent their exploitation in forced labor. In 2019, the government inspected 181 employment agencies that recruited Thai workers and found unlawful practices in four, resulting in license suspensions and revocations. It initiated prosecutions against 239 illegal brokers (416 in 2018) under the Employment and Job-Seeker Protection Act, resulting in the issuance of arrest warrants in seven cases. The government operated 12 labor offices in countries with large numbers of Thai workers; these offices conducted 887 inspections, assisted more than 5,980 workers, and trained 758 labor volunteers to assist in the identification of labor violations and trafficking among Thai workers.
In August 2019, the government approved the extension of stay for Cambodian, Laotian, and Burmese workers who obtained legal work permits through the nationality verification process, which allowed undocumented workers to obtain identity documents without leaving Thailand, by two years. Nonetheless, the complicated nature of government registration under the nationality verification process and in many cases, low levels of literacy, resulted in workers’ reliance on brokers and employers, who often overcharged workers to obtain documents, thereby increasing their vulnerability to debt-based coercion. The government also maintained bilateral MOUs with neighboring countries to recruit migrant workers to Thailand, and 413,536 workers were recruited through this system in 2019. However, high costs, difficulties in obtaining identity documents in home countries, and other administrative barriers continued to impede greater usage of this mechanism and also resulted in workers’ reliance on brokers assistance. The government also permitted migrants to obtain 30-day and 90-day border passes to work in non-seasonal agricultural or manufacturing jobs, including within 10 developing special economic zones, but such temporary working arrangements did not provide workers access to social protections. NGOs reported employers increasingly encouraged workers to obtain these border passes. The government reported labor inspectors conducted inspection of 146 establishments in border areas in 2019 and found 71 in violations of the law; however, the government did not report identifying any cases of trafficking through these efforts and only issued corrective orders in all but one case. In 2019, the government inspected 244 migrant worker recruitment agencies, compared to 67 in 2018, and found four operating in violation of the law.
Weaknesses in Thailand’s labor laws preventing migrant workers from forming labor unions may have contributed to exploitation. The 2018 Royal Ordinance on Management of Migrant Workers 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 ($340-$3,360) and up to six months’ imprisonment for employers who violated these rules. The government found 2,333 businesses and employers guilty of employing migrant workers without valid work permits in 2018, a sharp increase compared to 716 in 2018; the government collected 16 million baht ($537,450) in fines from 586 of these employers. 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 and observers reported that while DLPW was responsible for monitoring for illegal deductions, DOE conducted labor inspections of recruitment agencies but did not frequently refer suspected cases of illegal deductions to DLPW. Recent research reported fewer migrant workers, including those employed in the fishing industry, who were recruited in their home countries paid recruitment fees prior to starting their employment in Thailand. However, many employers and brokers, who bore the upfront costs associated with bringing workers to Thailand, indebted workers to pay these fees through illegal salary deductions, often without workers’ knowledge. The Ministerial Regulation on Labor Protection for Sea Fishers required employers to pay workers’ salaries at least once per month through electronic deposits and to share catch profits. While this system received overall praise from civil society observers, some reported concerns 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. In addition, while the electronic payment system increased the ability of labor inspectors to verify wage payments, unscrupulous employers continued to make regular electronic payments in their employees’ accounts to satisfy the legal requirement but made illegal withdrawals. The lack of a requirement that employment contracts be written in both Thai and migrant workers’ languages, and a lack of clear guidance to measure work and rest hours for workers aboard fishing vessels heightened their risk of trafficking. Employers rarely provided workers a contract to keep or in their language, and research indicated migrant fishermen were less likely to have signed a contract in their own language than in previous years; contacts attributed this decrease to the government ceasing to proactively provide a standard contract that had been made available in multiple languages in previous years. 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. In November 2019, the government passed the Fishery Workers Protection Act to increase protections for fishermen, including by requiring health and safety protections, medical care at sea, rest periods, and other protections; however, it was not fully enforced by the end of the reporting period because the government had not approved seven out of 11 subordinate laws. Although government regulations permitted exploited migrant workers to change employers, some policies restricted their ability to do so in practice. Provincial labor offices required workers recruited under MOUs to present many documents that workers often could not provide without NGO or 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, and some employers charged these workers to obtain their documents, making them susceptible to debt-based coercion. The government did not report investigating employers who illegally charged fees to such migrant workers.
The government operated five post-arrival and reintegration centers 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 2019, these centers assisted 413,536 migrant workers. However, due to the limited amount of time workers were present at these centers, which was usually immediately after workers’ arrival in Thailand, officials were only able to provide them with limited information in practice. In addition, observers reported labor officials interviewed workers in the presence of their employers, brokers, and armed police at post-arrival centers, which may have deterred workers from reporting exploitation. MOL also worked with NGOs to provide services at 10 migrant worker assistance centers. During the reporting period, the government held a meeting with civil society, government agencies, and the private sector to evaluate these 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. Provincial labor offices, migrant worker assistance centers, and other government agencies did not adequately investigate migrant workers complaints or refer suspected labor violations, including those indicative of forced labor, to relevant agencies. In addition, workers’ past negative interactions with authorities and a lack of availability of interpreters at some labor offices deterred migrant workers from reporting exploitation.
During the reporting period the government transferred the authority of the Command Center for Combating Illegal Fishing (CCCIF), which operated 32 port-in port-out (PIPO) centers and 19 additional forward inspection points (FIP), to the Department of Fisheries, while the newly established Thai Maritime Enforcement Command Center (Thai-MECC) oversaw PIPO and FIP operations. PIPO centers performed inspections to verify whether fishing vessels were operating legally and implemented a risk-based assessment system to identify target vessels for inspection. Labor inspectors working in PIPO teams verified crew lists using biometric data and worker interviews. The government banned long-haul Thai-flagged vessels from operating in international waters from 2016 to 2018 and permitted two vessels to renew their licenses to fish in international waters in 2019, with requirements that they return to Thailand every year. From February to September 2019, PIPO centers conducted 53,860 inspections at-port and 6,605 at-sea and found 23 and 330 infringements, respectively. Among these, authorities identified only two cases involving labor violations, which involved failure to provide an employment contract and failure to pay workers’ wages via bank transfer. The government has never reported identifying trafficking victims as a result of PIPO labor inspections. In addition, resource constraints during the transition of inspection authority from CCCIF to Thai-MECC resulted in reduced inspection rates for two months during the year. The government introduced a manual for PIPO centers on standardized inspection practices and, although still inconsistent, centers increasingly utilized universal checklists for inspection operations compared to previous years. In addition, observers reported inspectors more frequently conducted interviews with victim-centered practices, and all PIPO centers had translators available for inspections. Nonetheless, some inspection teams lacked translators for some workers’ languages, did not board vessels during inspections, did not separate workers away from owners, captains, or brokers for interviews, or conduct pre- and post- inspection team meetings away from vessel owners or captains; these practices likely deterred some workers or inspectors from revealing information due to fears of retaliation. In addition, at-sea inspections did not sufficiently include checks for labor violations or consistently have translators available for interviewing foreign crewmembers. PIPOs did not universally apply a standardized procedure for referring cases of fishermen who went missing at sea, including to identify indicators of trafficking on the vessels in which they went missing, and an increasing number of crewmembers went missing at sea during the reporting period.
The government did not report how many inspections of adult entertainment businesses officials conducted in 2019, compared to 7,497 in 2018. In 2019, DLPW conducted 2,116 inspections at high-risk workplaces, including sugarcane farms, garment factories, seafood processing facilities, pig farms, and poultry farms, finding 1,017 workplaces operating in violation of labor laws. Some local observers reported some factories received advance warning of labor inspections, which may have hampered the ability of officials to identify labor violations, including those indicative of forced labor. The government continued to grant citizenship to stateless persons. The government made efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts, including by displaying a video in four languages discouraging child sex tourism in Thai airports and on Thai airline flights. In addition, the government coordinated with foreign governments to deny entry to known sex offenders. The government provided anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel.