Burmese Domestic Workers in Thailand Demand Greater Protection

By Nyein Nyein 16 June 2016

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Burmese domestic workers in Thailand, who are not protected by existing domestic legislation and remain highly vulnerable to exploitation, have called on the Thai government to do more to ensure their basic labor rights.

The Burmese migrants spoke at a seminar on Thursday marking the fifth International Domestic Workers’ Day in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai.

They told The Irrawaddy that the strengthening of bilateral relations between Burma and Thailand had so far made little impact on the lives of Burmese migrant workers—particularly those employed as domestic workers.

Kyal Sin, a Burmese migrant in her twenties, told The Irrawaddy that she also wanted to see improved work opportunities in Burma itself—meaning fewer would have to migrate.

Kyal Sin had been working in Thailand for over six years and had recently quit her job as a housemaid, where she had had to work at least 14 hours a day while being paid for a conventional working day of 8 hours. She now works in a restaurant from late afternoon till 2 a.m.

“Housekeeping is a tiresome job, where you are alone and are not able to gain useful knowledge from outside,” Kyal Sin said. She was hoping “to gain more useful knowledge working outside the home as a waitress.” Her income had gone down—200 Thai baht (less than US$6) per day at the restaurant—but the workload is lighter and the hours considerably shorter.

Khin Phone Maw, another migrant worker who spoke with The Irrawaddy, said she is currently working as a housekeeper—although, unlike many domestic workers who lodge with their employers, she is able to commute from her own home every day.

“This gives me more freedom,” Khin Phone Maw said. She is working part time as a radio presenter on a program run by the MAP Foundation (Migrant Assistance Program), a Thailand-based NGO.

However, the daily chores required of most domestic workers—cleaning, cooking, clothes-washing, dish-washing, car-washing, gardening, and taking care of pets—narrows the opportunities for gaining extra skills and experience.

To raise public awareness about the hardships faced by foreign workers in Thailand, migrant rights activists, NGOs and labor associations—including the MAP Foundation and the Northern Labor Network—staged the Thursday seminar in Chiang Mai, whose official subject was “exploring opportunities for workers to claim their rights.”

The seminar highlighted low wages, long working hours, and a lack of social services and government recognition among the chief challenges faced by migrant workers, including in the domestic sector.

Thai regional government officers from departments including land transport, social welfare, and labor protection attended to share their thoughts and experiences.

Domestic workers across the world, numbering 67 million at some estimates, are frequently underpaid and undervalued.

There are around 4,000 registered Burmese migrants in Chiang Mai—many of whom work in the domestic sector without proper legal protection and have their basic labor rights frequently violated—according to Pim, an ethnic Shan coordinator for MAP’s Domestic Worker Program.

“They should work within the standard eight hour work day, receive the minimum wage and days off, and have access to social security benefits and healthcare, as stated in ILO Convention 189,” Pim said.

Currently, migrants employed in Thailand as gardeners, housemaids, nannies, caregivers to the elderly, drivers, and as agricultural workers have to work long hours, often every day. Housemaids, for instance, frequently have to work from 5 a.m. until 10 p.m. daily.

However, domestic workers are exempted from the Thai Labor Protection Act and are covered by no other form of legal protection.

“The new National League for Democracy government [in Burma] should urge the Thai government to guarantee labor rights for Burmese migrants,” Pim told The Irrawaddy.

Burma’s State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi is scheduled to visit Thailand next Thursday and will reportedly meet with Burmese migrants in Samut Prakan, a coastal province just south of the capital Bangkok.