Migrant Workers Demand Full Labor Rights in Northern Thailand

By Nyein Nyein 1 May 2017

CHIANG MAI, Thailand—Burmese migrant workers and local Thai workers marched to Chiang Mai City Hall on Monday afternoon to demand full labor rights on the occasion of International Labor Day, or May Day.

Around 200 workers from the Northern Thailand Labor Network—which is comprised of Thai and Burmese workers’ associations as well as local academics—conducted a two-day workshop on Sunday and Monday to collect workers’ voices on the internationally-recognized labor day.

“Migrant workers face continuous problems [in Thailand], we want all domestic and foreign migrant workers’ labor rights to be protected,” said Brahm Press, the director of labor rights NGO Migrant Assistance Program.

Workers called on the Thai government and its interior and labor ministries, Chiang Mai’s governor, and the Burmese government to ensure workers in all occupations have access to a safe working environment, social security benefits without discrimination, and access to skills development.

They want all occupations—including domestic work, the service sector, and sex work—to be covered by Thailand’s labor protection law, which is not currently the case.

The workers also recommended an increase in the minimum wage, and for it to be applied to foreign migrant workers as well as domestic workers.

“Laborers want the minimum wage to increase to 450 baht a day, instead of 300 baht, for all workers, including migrants,” explained Brahm Press, echoing the sentiments of marchers that the Irrawaddy spoke to.

One such Burmese migrant worker, who did not give her name, said that she joined the march to demand an increase in the minimum wage and that workers had to continue to press the Chiang Mai authorities as promises of better labor rights were unfulfilled in the past.

“We urge [the government] to use the more humanized term as ‘migrant workers,’ instead of using the term the ‘Alien laborers’ in Thailand,” Brahm Press also said.

Labor activists want Burmese and Thai authorities to implement changes as soon as possible.

Pi Thong Khan, a legal consultant to migrants in northern Thailand, said they wanted their demands to “be fulfilled as soon as possible within the year 2017.”

However, Brahm Press said unless the governments adopt policy changes by ratifying the Internal Labor Organization (ILO) conventions, “it is hard to expect immediate implementation of the recommendations.”

He said that one small victory was won from demands last year: Migrant workers in Thailand holding a work permit were granted freedom of movement around the province in which they were registered without the need for prior permission.

The migrant worker rights activists also want more cooperation from Burmese authorities.

Pi Thong Khan said it is very rare to receive assistance from the Burmese consulate in Chiang Mai, noting that consulate officers declined to join the weekend seminar.

The Northern Thailand Labour Network also demanded to extend Thailand’s legal working age to 60 years, as currently Thai law forbids working passed the age of 55.

The Network want the Thai government to ratify the ILO’s conventions to guarantee rights including the freedom of association the right to collective bargaining and negotiation.

The they also demanded the swift signing of ILO Convention no. 189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers this year to promote recognition of domestic workers’ labor rights.