By Nanchanok Wongsamuth
SAMUT SAKHON, June 28 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A political party set to form part of Thailand's new coalition government vowed on Friday to relax laws governing the country's multi-billion dollar fishing industry, a move labour activists warned could increase exploitation and abuse of workers.
The leader of the Democrat Party made the pledge as they met fishing vessel owners at an industry gathering in Samut Sakhon province to discuss illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
"We will urgently amend the law and other regulations," said Jurin Laksanawisit, who is seen as a frontrunner to be deputy prime minister and commerce minister under Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.
The world's third-largest exporter of seafood introduced a raft of laws and measures to improve conditions for workers after the European Union in 2015 threatened to ban imports over its failure to tackle human trafficking.
But many commercial fishing vessel owners are now calling for these laws to be relaxed, citing the high cost of complying.
Kiat Sitheeamorm, a foreign affairs advisor to the Democrat Party, said changes could include revising fines for fishing vessels, but that Thailand would abide by European Union regulations to avoid jeopardising imports.
"They [the previous government] think that increasing penalties will solve the problem when in fact they should be facilitating fishing vessels," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation at the sidelines of the meeting.
Patima Tungpuchayakul, co-founder of the Labour Rights Promotion Network Foundation, warned the planned changes could mean fewer protections for workers in the fishing sector, which would eventually result in a labour shortage.
"Boat operators have complained about the lack of labour, but they have never improved their employment quality," she said.
"If the law that protects workers is changed, workers will tell each other through word of mouth not to come."
Thailand could be hit by seafood bans if the new government relaxes the law, said Thanaporn Sriyakulan, a senior government advisor on the industry.
Thailand has about 10,500 registered commercial vessels and an estimated 6,000 large scale vessels are required to undergo random checks for legal papers, labour and working conditions by the government upon entering and leaving ports.
(Reporting by Nanchanok Wongsamuth @nanchanokw; Editing by Michael Taylor and Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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