CHIANG MAI, THAILAND - In Thailand, thousands of unregistered domestic workers from Myanmar face daily abuse at the hands of their employees. But now, as Myanmar opens to reform, changes are coming slowly. Is it enough to draw back a future work force?
Every year, an estimated two million migrant workers from Myanmar join the Thai workforce seeking better pay and working conditions.
While the minimum wage has risen to about $10 a day, rights groups say female migrant domestic workers continue to face abuses behind closed doors.
For laborers from Myanmar like Nang Gong Kham — who asked not to show her face on camera — life without a proper work permit constrains her daily travel.
“I never got any days off. If I wanted to go outside, I had to ask permission. Sometimes I needed to go help my relatives who were sick. I asked for time off and they told me I had to finish my work and could only go for one or two hours and had to come back right away,” she said.
Isolation and long hours are common obstacles that domestic workers face in finding the time to seek local support networks for help.
Migrant aid worker Pim Saenwee often finds that the only solution is to go to the root of the problem - even if it means travel after hours.
“It’s hard for us to get connected with the domestic workers because they’re kept in private houses. For outsiders like us, it’s hard to get in, and hard for them to get out. In past, many maids are abused with wages and rights abuse and sexual abuse. That's why Map needs to help them,” she said.
Core issue remains
As the voice of female domestic workers in Asia becomes louder, a core problem remains in the traditional view of the profession.
A new report from the International Labor Organization says more than a quarter of women employed in Asia work more than 48 hours a week.
And it’s a particular issue with domestic workers, points out ILO migrant labor expert Jackie Pollock.
“It’s a gender issue that domestic work is not seen as work because it's something that women do and housewives are not paid to do all the work that they do. So then you bring in somebody from outside to do that work and it's still not considered work and still not protected by labor laws,” she said.
As Thailand moves forward to simplify work permits for migrant laborers in the country, time will tell if working conditions for domestic workers will improve.