The government maintained efforts to prevent trafficking. The Prime Minister oversaw the government’s anti-trafficking efforts through the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Committee, which coordinated policies and strategies across agencies. In addition, the Deputy Prime Minister chaired a committee to monitor and evaluate the implementation of the government’s anti-trafficking efforts. The government also continued to monitor its progress to combat trafficking through data collection and annual reports to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. In 2020, the government allocated approximately 4.02 billion baht ($134.36 million) towards its prevention and suppression of trafficking budget, compared with approximately 3.8 billion ($127.01 million) in 2019. 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. Addressing an increasing occurrence of online sexual exploitation of children, the government distributed booklets to parents, teachers, and students on the risk of online sexual exploitation and how to report suspected cases or to seek assistance. TICAC and CAC’s collaborated with NGOs and the OAG to conduct 18 awareness raising talks on online sexual exploitation for students and teachers in 2020. In addition, the foreign affairs ministry conducted awareness campaigns on trafficking risks, including by sharing information through social media, for Thai nationals abroad.
Thai law permitted recruitment agencies to charge a limited amount of recruitment fees to Thais seeking overseas employment. Excessive fees incurred by some workers charged by unscrupulous recruitment agencies made them vulnerable to debt-based coercion. Through government-to-government formal migration channels, the government assisted 2,978 Thais to obtain employment abroad in 2020—which was significantly fewer than the 11,886 assisted in 2019 due to the impacts of the pandemic—including by providing job placement assistance. In addition, 14 provincial employment offices provided training, including on trafficking risks, to 1,891 Thai workers prior to their overseas employment. In 2020, the government conducted 133 inspections of employment agencies that recruited Thai workers but did not find any unlawful practices. It investigated 65 reports of brokers operating without a license. The government operated 12 labor offices in countries with high amounts of Thai workers; these offices conducted 1,630 inspections, assisted more than 7,684 workers, and trained 703 labor volunteers to assist in the identification of labor violations and trafficking among Thai workers. MOL and RTP collaborated to investigate unauthorized, online advertisements for jobs for Thai workers overseas which led to the investigation of 128 cases.
The government maintained bilateral memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with neighboring countries to recruit migrant workers to Thailand, and 111,429 workers were recruited through MOUs in 2020. However, high costs, difficulties in obtaining identity documents in home countries, and other administrative barriers continued to impede greater utilization of these MOUs and also resulted in workers relying on brokers’ assistance. The complicated nature of the government migrant worker registration process often resulted in workers’ reliance on brokers and employers, who often charged excessive fees to workers to obtain documents, thereby increasing their vulnerability to debt-based coercion. The 2018 Royal Ordinance on Management of Migrant Workers regulated the recruitment and employment of migrant workers in Thailand. The Ordinance required employers to provide workers a copy of their employment contracts and to cover some costs, such as recruitment fees and transportation costs associated with bringing migrant workers to Thailand and back to their home countries when employment ends. However, it did not prohibit employers and recruiters from charging migrant workers with some costs related to their recruitment, such as expenses for passports, medical checks, and work permits. 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. To accommodate Burmese, Cambodian, and Laotian workers whose work permits had expired but were unable to return due to pandemic-related travel restrictions, the Thai Cabinet approved measures to extend their work permits to allow them to legally work in Thailand until March 31, 2022. However, NGOs reported that fees associated with obtaining renewed work permits likely deterred some workers from applying for these permits and contributed to debt-based coercion, and that workers faced barriers applying due to the requirement or relied on brokers to assist them to register. This meant many workers continued to work without legal status and were likely at risk of exploitation, including debt-based coercion, by brokers and employers. The government also facilitated the return of more than 80,000 migrant workers from Myanmar to voluntarily return home.
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. Labor laws prevented migrant workers from forming labor unions which may have further contributed to exploitation. The 2018 Royal Ordinance 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 ($334-$3,340) and up to six months’ imprisonment for employers who violated these rules. It enabled employers to retain workers’ documents if they obtained their consent and if the employer provided access to the documents; however, observers reported that because enforcement was lacking, in some cases this facilitated the ability of unscrupulous employers to retain workers’ documents, especially in cases in which workers were not familiar with their rights under Thai law. The government did not report investigating illegal retention of documents or salary deductions. Observers reported that while the Department of Labor Protection and Welfare (DLPW) was responsible for monitoring for illegal deductions, the Department of Employment (DOE) conducted labor inspections of recruitment agencies but did not frequently refer suspected cases of illegal deductions to DLPW. 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. Thai law required that employment contracts be provided in Thai, English, and the migrant worker’s language. However, research conducted in previous years found that employers rarely provided workers a contract to keep in their own language in practice. Although government regulations permitted exploited migrant workers to change employers, some policies restricted their ability to do so in practice. NGOs reported the 2018 Royal Ordinance required an employer to submit a letter of resignation to the DOE for a worker to change employers; however, they reportedly rarely did 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 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 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 rather than obtain longer term work permits that would provide additional protections. The government reported that labor inspectors conducted inspection of 161 establishments in border areas in 2020 (146 in 2019), finding 146 violations of the law (71 in 2019). The government did not report identifying any cases of trafficking through these efforts but issued corrective orders in 144 cases and initiated prosecution in two cases. In 2020, the government inspected 264 migrant worker recruitment agencies (compared with 244 in 2019) and found two operating in violation of the law. MOL identified labor violations among 2,944 businesses and employers that employed migrant workers in 2020, compared with 2,333 in 2019; of these, the government fined 668 a total of 3.65 million baht ($121,990).
Following the passage of the Fishery Workers Protection Act in 2019, the government enacted two additional subordinate laws in 2020, thereby fully enacting all necessary laws required to fully implement the Act. The Act aimed to improve the effectiveness of labor inspections on fishing vessels, the provision of medical care, and regular reporting of violations of the act. In addition, the government enacted nine subordinate laws under the 2015 Royal Ordinance on Fisheries, to facilitate the issuance and extension of identity documents (seaman’s books) for migrant fishermen. A draft ministerial regulation would reduce the legal minimum age of relatives of a vessel’s captain or owners permitted to work on fishing vessels from 18 to 16; NGOs expressed concern that due to inadequate oversight to ensure that children working on fishing vessels were in fact relatives of adult crew members, this change may put children at risk of forced labor on fishing vessels. In addition, there were concerns the draft regulation did not ensure adequate work and rest hours for fishermen, would not require employers to provide workers a contract in their own language, would allow for wage deductions without the written consent of the worker, and permitted vessels to remain at sea for up to a year, which would limit the ability of workers to report exploitation to authorities or to seek assistance. A lack of clear guidance to measure work and rest hours for workers aboard fishing vessels heightened their risk of trafficking. The 2018 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 continued to report 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. In addition, while the electronic payment system increased the ability of labor inspectors to verify wage payments, previous reports indicated that unscrupulous employers continued to make regular electronic payments in their employees’ accounts to satisfy the legal requirement but made illegal withdrawals.
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 2020, these centers assisted 111,429 migrant workers. However, due to the limited amount of time workers were present at these centers, which was usually immediately after workers had completed their travel to Thailand, officials were only able to provide them with limited information in practice. In addition, previous reports indicated labor officials interviewed workers in the presence of their employers and 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, including to receive complaints of labor violations, assist workers to change employers, and update workers’ registration documents. The government continued to work 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.
The Department of Fisheries (DOF) oversaw the Command Center for Combating Illegal Fishing, which operated 32 port-in port-out (PIPO) centers and 19 additional forward inspection points (FIP). Some observers reported that since authority of PIPO moved from the Royal Thai Navy to DOF in 2019, it has experienced a loss of influence and inspections have weakened. 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. According to one NGO, some PIPO centers did not appropriately apply the risk assessment and sometimes failed to inspect vessels due to a lack of resources or an assumption that some vessels did not require inspection. In addition, an observer noted the risk assessment did not include indicators such as a vessel previously recorded as failing to record working hours, retaining workers’ documents, having labor intensive gear, or experiencing labor disputes or crewmembers lost at sea. In 2020, the government reported conducting labor inspections of 55,818 fishing vessels (44,322 in 2019) and identifying 19 vessels in violation of labor laws (20 in 2019). In addition, it conducted at-sea inspections of 842 vessels, but found only one case involving labor violations, which involved employing workers without seaman’s books. The government has never reported identifying trafficking victims as a result of PIPO labor inspections. NGOs have reported assisting victims of trafficking who underwent PIPO inspections but whom authorities did not identify as victims. The Royal Thai Navy, in cooperation with other agencies also inspected vessels at sea to identify smuggled migrants, and found 466 cases of migrant smuggling in 2020, but it did not report screening these individuals for trafficking. At-sea inspections did not include sufficient checks for labor violations or consistently have interpreters available for interviewing foreign crewmembers.
Despite using a manual on standardized inspection practices introduced in 2019, PIPO labor inspections continued to be inconsistent and ineffective at identifying potential cases of forced labor on fishing vessels. Some inspection teams did not use victim-centered interview practices, lacked interpreters for some workers’ languages, did not board vessels during inspections, did not interview workers or separate workers away from owners, captains, or brokers when interviews were conducted, or conduct pre- and post- inspection team meetings away from vessel owners or captains. Some of these practices likely prevented authorities from identifying trafficking victims and deterred workers or inspectors from revealing information due to fears of retaliation. Furthermore, PIPO officials sometime reportedly ignored complaints made by migrant workers or told them to report their exploitation to another agency, and there was no standard or required protocol for labor inspectors to refer potential cases of forced labor to law enforcement or MDTs. 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 the number of crewmembers who went missing at sea continued to increase; in 2020 there were 63 missing fishermen, compared with 29 in 2019.
As a result of the government’s pandemic-mitigation efforts, it decreased the budget for labor inspections by 72 percent; however, the government increased the number of inspectors and conducted a comparable number of inspections as in 2020. In 2020, DLPW conducted 1,924 inspections at high-risk workplaces and seafood processing facilities (2,116 in 2019), finding 1,629 workplaces operating in violation of labor laws (1,017 in 2020). Labor inspectors could not enter some business establishments due to pandemic-related health precautions. Previous reports indicated 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. DPLW identified 10 enterprises that violated child labor laws, involving 44 children but did not report any cases of child labor trafficking. A lack of access to remote workplaces prevented sufficient child labor inspections in some informal sectors. Following an outbreak of COVID-19 among migrant workers in Samut Sakhon, the government instituted extreme measures to contain the virus by forcibly quarantining migrant workers, including those who tested negative for the virus, in their dormitories with fencing and barbed wire. Contacts reported these measures made workers distrustful of government officials and likely reduced the likelihood they were willing to report exploitation to authorities. The Ministry of Justice proposed a plan to recruit inmates with three to five years left in prison to work in the seafood sector on a voluntary basis; observers expressed concern that it may be difficult to determine if all inmates volunteered for this work and that they could face forms of coercion to participate in this work. 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.