As Suu Kyi Preps For Thai Trip, Migrant Workers Hope For More Rights

By Nyein Nyein 20 June 2016

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Burmese migrant workers living in Thailand hope to receive greater labor rights protection after State Counselor and Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi visits Bangkok later this week, according to advocacy groups on Monday.

It is expected that the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Labor Cooperation and the Agreement on the Employment of Workers will be signed during her bilateral meetings with the Thai prime minister and foreign minister Don Pramudwinai.

The state counselor, upon the invitation of the Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha, will also visit migrant worker communities in Samut Sakhon as well as the isolated Tham Hin refugee camp in Ratchaburi, during her three-day trip running Thursday to Saturday.

Migrants hope the new agreement and MOU on the employment of workers will ensure their labor rights by addressing issues around the minimum wage, workplace discrimination and legal support.

Min Oo, the coordinator of the Migrant Labor Program at the Foundation for Education Development, said, “There are common demands about a minimum wage, legal protection and discriminatory working environments that are being advocated for by the migrant rights groups, and we hope these will be brought up in a new agreement between Thailand and Burma.”

The labor rights activist said the State Counselor will meet migrant workers before she has bilateral meetings on labor cooperation, in which she will be joined by Burma’s ministers of Labor, Immigration and Population and of Planning and Finance, along with her deputy minister of Foreign Affairs.

Sai Sai, a migrant worker and member of the Migrant Worker Rights Network, said he hopes Suu Kyi’s trip “yields a lot of benefits for migrant workers.”

“I have heard that the migrants’ rights groups are advocating for changes in the MOU and are asking for the minimum wage to be equalized for the Burmese migrant workers across Thailand,” he said.

In spite of Thailand’s minimum wage of 300 baht (US$9) per day, migrant workers in different sectors still earn different amounts, and those working as domestic helpers or in sweatshops receive significantly less.

Burmese migrant workers are often vulnerable to employment agents who take advantage of Thailand’s 2009 “National Verification” program and the 2012 memorandum, which are considered to be unfavorable to the workers.

Beginning last year, migrants with expired passports were given pink working permits, lasting for two years. Min Oo said the new MOU seems to endorse this scheme, which would save the cost of obtaining new official documents.

In order to obtain official documents, migrant workers have to use employment agents, who charge at least three times the official rate. Migrants usually have to spend more than 10,000 to 12,000 baht for the visa, a health check-up and a work permit. Officially these procedures cost around 3,000-6,000 baht.

After going through unethical agents, some Burmese migrants end up with a fake stamp on their passports, which could result in jail time.

Kyaw Thaung, the director of the Migrant Association of Thailand said the current MOU between the governments of Burma and Thailand, which was introduced in 2012, should be revised because it benefits agents more than the workers.

“I would like to request Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to talk openly about stopping the government-to-government MOU which encourages corruption,” he told The Irrawaddy.