The Irrawaddy

Govt Seeks Work Permits for Undocumented Domestic Workers Abroad

A seminar to mark International Domestic Workers’ Day in Thailand on June 16, 2016. (Photo: Nyein Nyein / The Irrawaddy)

NAYPYIDAW—Burma’s government will seek the cooperation of concerned labor ministries to issue official work permits for undocumented Burmese domestic workers in foreign countries, said Thein Swe, minister of labor, immigration and population.

“We will cooperate with concerned embassies and labor ministries to make a list of illegal Burmese domestic workers in foreign countries so we can provide legal protection and guarantee their fundamental rights,” said Thein Swe.

The decision follows labor rights defenders’ request to State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi to take care of Burmese domestic workers in Thailand, during her visit to the country in July.

The government began compiling a list of undocumented domestic workers in cooperation with Burmese embassies and labor organizations after Suu Kyi returned from her trip to Thailand. The government estimates that the numbers could be as high as 28,000 in Thailand and 40,000 in Singapore.

Most of the domestic workers in Thailand are women who do not have any legal protection since they are working without official permission.

“They don’t get fair wages and it is difficult to protect them in the case of violence,” said Thein Swe.

The government estimates that there could be at least 28,000 Burmese migrants in Thailand working odd jobs—as garden cleaners, office gophers, vendors, drivers and so on, said Thein Swe.

The Singaporean government already recognizes Burmese domestic workers as legal workers even though they do not hold proper documentation to work there.

“Although the Burmese government doesn’t officially send domestic workers to Singapore, they go there on tourist visas and then stay on. We’ve learned that the number is somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000,” said the minister.

“Even though the Singaporean government recognizes Burmese domestic helpers, the Burmese Embassy in Singapore receives complaints almost daily regarding abuses inflicted by home owners or requests for help changing jobs,” Thein Swe added.

Burma sent 174 people to Hong Kong and 130 people to Singapore in 2014 to work as domestic workers under a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the respective governments.

Employees, labor rights advocates, and the MAP Foundation—a Thai non-governmental organization working with Burmese migrant workers in Thailand—met in June in northern Thailand to mark International Domestic Workers’ Day. Participants at the commemorative seminar agreed that relations between Burma and Thailand have improved, but with little positive impact on Burmese domestic workers in Thailand.