News / Asia

Thailand Makes Efforts to Improve Conditions for Migrant Laborers

Thailand Makes Efforts to Improve Conditions for Migrant Laborersi
August 04, 2014 9:44 AM
​​Thailand has been facing increasing international scrutiny as a hub of human trafficking and slave labor, but now some of the kingdom’s companies are striving to improve working conditions, especially for the millions of migrant laborers from surrounding countries. VOA's Steve Herman reports from Bangkok.

Seven-year-old Nan Kung from Battambang, Cambodia, need at least a rudimentary education.

In a makeshift classroom at a Bangkok construction site, she tells visitors she likes coloring, learning the alphabet and practicing washing her hands.

Adjacent to this open-air space, several hundred workers are building 319 luxury homes.

With Thailand's very low unemployment rate, builders and contractors are dependent on migrant laborers, some of whom insist on bringing along their spouses — some of whom are themselves put to work.

  • A girl goes on an errand at a construction site, Bangkok, July 10, 2014. (Rosyla Kalden/VOA)
  • Migrant laborers take a lunch break at a construction site, Bangkok, July 10, 2014. (Rosyla Kalden/VOA)
  • A construction worker from Myanmar, Ma Moe, with her son, Sun Linn Htet, Bangkok, July 10, 2014. (Rosyla Kalden/VOA)
  • A worker takes a break at a muddy construction site in Bangkok, July 10, 2014. (Rosyla Kalden/VOA)
  • Two children at a Bangkok construction site, Bangkok, July 10, 2014. (Rosyla Kalden/VOA)
  • A little girl showers at a construction site, Bangkok, July 10, 2014. (Rosyla Kalden/VOA)

Thailand has been facing increasing international scrutiny as a hub of human trafficking and slave labor, but now some of the kingdom’s companies are striving to improve working conditions, especially for the millions of migrant laborers from surrounding countries.

“It's very common in construction sites whereby we can see lots of kids running around and not doing anything productive," said Srettha Thavisin, president Sansiri PCL. "Sometimes it's even worse. Sometimes [there is use of] child labor to build houses and things like that.”
Previously the Sansiri corporation, like many builders in the developing world, looked the other way regarding children at construction sites.

President Srettha Thavisin, said all of Sansiri’s contractors now sign a clause acknowledging they can be terminated if they are found to be employing anyone under the age of 15.
“We need to be able to educate our staff that in addition to making houses, making condos, delivering houses to the consumers, it's our duty as citizens of Thailand to contribute back to society," stated Thavisin. "And this is a particular cause in which we believe in.” 

As part of its social change initiative, Sansiri is also operating, in collaboration with the contractors and UNICEF, safe spaces for children at each project site.
“Having a place like this they can be more productive in their work and it's also a peace of mind while they're working. They know that the children are safe and away from harm,” Juat stated.

That is a relief for Nan’s mother.

“Before they had this center I used to bring my child to where we were doing the construction. But now I’m really happy my daughter can stay here. It’s safe,” said mother, Nee Kung.

Construction worker Ma Moe from Pyay District, Pego Division in Myanmar has a bachelor’s degree in history. Despite her education, she said the best way to provide for her son, Sun Linn Htet, is for her and her husband to build homes and offices in Thailand.

“At previous construction sites, making daily wages, we couldn’t send our son to school," she said. "He is a bright kid, he remembers everything he learns here. So that is why I am elated he can have this kind of educational experience here.”

But the boy’s education, informal as it is, is likely to be interrupted. When the family moves on to the next project site, it likely will not have similar safe spaces for children.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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Comment Sorting
by: Frankie Fook-lun Leung from: Los Angeles
August 01, 2014 7:00 PM
In most countries, even the USA, migrant laborers are at the wrong end of the stick. They have no platform to air their grievances. They are liable to be sent back to their home countries which treat them just as bad if not worse. International organizations and relief agencies already have too much on their plates.

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