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Thailand Urged to Protect Migrant Workers from Burma

  • Daniel Schearf

A Thailand-based activist group says migrant workers from Burma are significantly worse off than they were a year ago. The group is urging the Thai government to extend legal protections and social safety nets to migrant workers.

The Migrant Assistance Program Foundation, known as MAP, says the global economic downturn has hit migrants from Burma particularly hard.

According to research released by MAP Friday at the Bangkok press club, 70 percent of workers from Burma in two Thai cities say they are having more difficulty finding work. And while the cost of living has gone up, 30 percent say their wages were cut during the past year.

The report says factory workers have suffered the worst as exports have dropped with low foreign demand.

Soe Lin Aung is one of the authors of the report. He says MAP is asking the Thai government to fully integrate migrants into the social security system and to include them in economic recovery packages.

"We're also asking that they monitor and enforce relevant labor laws along the lines of working hours, minimum wage, and severance pay," he said. "The Thai government should lift travel restrictions for migrants. If we allow migrants to move more freely they can have an easier time of locating safe and secure employment, which is good for migrants and it's good for the economy frankly because then the migrant worker population can be more responsive to changing economic conditions if they can move more freely."

Soe Lin Aung says the group is also asking the Thai government to stop threatening to deport illegal migrants, which he said would help build a more inclusive society.

Most of the migrant workers in Thailand are undocumented and risk exploitation from employers.

The MAP report says women from Burma have been affected more than men. Many female migrants in Thailand work as household maids.

Deng Lungjong represents a migrant domestic worker group in Chiang Mai. She says employers have stopped paying benefits and annual wage increases and some are even withholding pay.

But, despite the worsening job situation in Thailand, she says they are not encouraging migrant workers to stay in Burma.

She says they do not discourage friends to come to Thailand because whatever the situation is like here it is worse in Burma. She says there is no work in Burma, whereas in Thailand there are still bits and pieces.

The MAP research was based on interviews, focus groups and survey results from more than four-hundred migrants from Burma working in the northern Thai cities of Mae Sot and Chiang Mai.

Some 300,000 to 400,000 migrant workers from Burma work in the two cities, mainly in agriculture, construction, and factories.

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