Asia

Thailand scraps plan to put prisoners on fishing boats

In this picture taken on 3 December 2014, Myanmar national and migrant workers on a fishing boat in Ban Nam Khaem village in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Image copyright AFP
Image caption The Thai fishing industry employs many migrant workers from nearby countries such as Myanmar

Thailand's government has decided to drop a controversial plan to get prisoners to work on fishing boats, after labour and human rights groups condemned the project.

The foreign ministry said in a statement that the decision was made after industry consultations.

More than 40 groups had sent a letter to Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha last week objecting to the plan.

Thailand is the world's third-largest seafood exporter.

The government has said the scheme was intended to help prisoners re-enter the job market after their release and was an "exploratory idea".

But critics believed it was a violation of prisoners' rights, and that the move was aimed at easing a labour shortage in the fishing industry which has fuelled human trafficking.

In their letter sent to the prime minister, rights groups said the scheme would not solve "abusive working conditions and many other problems present in the Thai fishing industry".

More than 300,000 people currently work in fishing in Thailand.

The BBC's Jonathan Head in Bangkok says industry players have often been condemned for abuses of migrant workers on board fishing boats.

The scheme was first mooted in December 2014. The government said then that it would only send consenting prisoners who had less than a year of their sentence left.

Last week it revealed it had sent more than 170 prisoners to work on boats in the Samut Sakhon province west of Bangkok.

Thailand is trying to boost its record in fighting human trafficking ahead of a US deadline to show improvement.

In its annual report on human trafficking last June, the US state department downgraded Thailand to the lowest status for not fully complying with minimum standards for its elimination.

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