CHIANG MAI, Thailand — A Burmese Labor Ministry official has warned Burmese migrant workers in Thailand that they should renew their Thai work permits before the permits expire on March 31.
Myo Aung, director general of the Ministry of Labor, Employment and Social Welfare, said during an interview in Chiang Mai on Friday that migrant workers should ensure they obtain and correctly fill in the registration papers and have their Thai employers request a renewal of their permits from the Thai Department of Employment.
“I want to say to our Myanmar migrant workers: fill in the registration form thoroughly because the work permit by the Thai DoE and the visa are as important as your passport,” he said during a visit to Thailand, where he met with Thai labor officials and migrant labor rights groups based in Chiang Mai, Mae Sai, Mae Sot and Bangkok.
He said it was important that workers take fill in their own permit application to avoid local labor agents, who are known to overcharge migrants for helping with the registration process. “We want the workers to come and do it themselves. But due to a lack of knowledge and time, they rely on agents too much,” said Myo Aung.
During the meetings, Myo Aung discussed the situation of some 600,000 Burmese migrants whose work permits are due to expire by the end of next month. In August, the group saw their four-year work visa expire and they were granted an eight month extension by Thai authorities.
There are some 2.6 million registered Burmese workers in Thailand and the group has been undergoing a drawn-out process of gaining legal work status in Thailand.
The process is complicated because many Burmese workers lack official documentation from their government, a situation Naypyidaw is trying to address through cooperation with Thailand and by providing documentation for migrant workers in joint Thai-Burmese centers located close to the border.
The process to at the centers is, however, known to be inefficient, time-consuming and costly, causing many Burmese workers and Thai employers to rely on agents.
Labor rights organizations in Thailand estimate there could be another half a million unregistered Burmese workers. The latter group is considered the most vulnerable to abuse and human trafficking at the hands of employers or agents. Many end up in Thailand’s notorious fishing industry, known for keeping migrants in slave-like conditions on boats, or doing low-paid farm work.
“The problems we have to deal are mostly about undocumented workers, mainly in the fishing industry and at the plantations. We discussed these issues with the Thai labor officials,” Myo Aung said, without explaining how his government would address the large-scale abuses.
The Burma Embassy in Thailand has been struggling to address even a fraction of the many problems that migrant workers face and few have been able to get consular service regarding their legal and work status.
Myo Aung said the embassy in Bangkok would address the problem by increasing its number of labor attaches from one to two in the coming months.
Often times, Thai police and immigration officials also take advantage of Burmese laborers and their lack of knowledge of procedures and the Thai language by demanding hefty bribes to complete or verify their registration.
A Burmese migrant worker in Chiang Mai, who only gave his name as Johnny, said he had obtained a Burmese passport and a Thai work visa, yet he had still fallen victim to bribe-seeking officials.
“Despite the fact that I had a valid visa in my passport and a work permit, the police detained me and… said I must pay a 2,000 baht [about US$60] fine for staying in Tak Province for more than 24 hours,” he said. “It happened not only to me, but also to other Burmese migrants travelling from Mae Sot to Bangkok or other areas.”