Burma’s President Calls on Thailand to Protect Migrant Workers

By Kyaw Kha 11 May 2016

Burma’s President Htin Kyaw called on Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai to strengthen labor rights protections for millions of Burmese migrant workers in Thailand, during a meeting with a Thai delegation led by Don at the Presidential Palace on Monday.

Burmese labor rights organizations in Thailand welcomed the move, urging the two governments to work together to ensure Burmese migrant workers in Thailand are treated with dignity and equality.

Though Thai laws on labor and migrant workers ostensibly grant equal rights for workers regardless of race or religion, hundreds of thousands of Burmese migrant workers do not enjoy those rights, according to Aung Kyaw, vice chairman of the Thailand-based Migrant Workers Rights Network (MWRN).

“Burmese migrant workers started working in Thailand some 30 years ago. While some enjoy equal labor rights, some still don’t. So, we welcome the Myanmar president’s demand to the Thai government,” Aung Kyaw told The Irrawaddy.

MWRN has held talks with the new National League for Democracy (NLD) government in Naypyidaw on migrant workers’ issues and also sent open letters with recommendations for improving their situations to relevant authorities.

Kyaw Thaung, a director with the Myanmar Association in Thailand (MAT), another group dealing with migrant workers issues, said Htin Kyaw’s words this week would only be as good as the actions the Thai government takes, if any, in response.

“The Thai government needs to prove that [they take Htin Kyaw seriously] by taking care of Burmese migrant workers who are arrested daily in Mae Sot, Bangkok and so on, despite having valid documents [allowing them] to stay and travel freely. Only then will we believe and accept that the Thai government respects rights,” Kyaw Thaung told The Irrawaddy.

There are an estimated 3 million Burmese migrant workers in Thailand, many of whom are not in the country legally and are at particular risk for exploitation by Thai employers and human trafficking syndicates.

Htin Kyaw and Don on Monday also discussed trilateral cooperation, in a deal that includes Japan, on the Dawei Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Burma’s southeast, as well as promotion of responsible investment and cooperation in the development of human resources and capacity-building.

The foreign minister, on behalf of Thai junta leader and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, invited Htin Kyaw for a future visit to Thailand.