Thai NGOs Call for Improved Social Benefits for Migrant Workers

By Nyein Nyein 18 December 2014

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Burmese migrants and NGOs supporting migrants in Thailand have called on the Thai government to reform its social security system so that legally registered Burmese, Laotian and Cambodia workers in the country can gain long-term benefits from the system.

Brahm Press, the director of the MAP Foundation for the Health and Knowledge of Ethnic Labor, said the group, along with half a dozen other community-based organizations, had sent an open letter to the Thai Ministry of Interior’s office at Chiang Mai City Hall and to the Thailand’s Legal Reform Committee.

The organizations made their appeal on Thursday to mark International Migrant Day; in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, they also organized a conference on the theme of “Social Security for Migrant Workers”

“We include a couple of demands in our letter; such as calling for having systematic social security system for the migrants and having an easier work permit system for migrants,” he said.

Brahm Press said current Thai laws prevent registered migrants from building up social security benefits over the long term despite the fact that they pay for them, as their visas expire after four years.

Migrants can only return to Thailand after renewing their passports and adopting a new name, causing them to lose all social, health and retirement benefits they built up.

“As they have to go back to their country after four years of working in Thailand, and have to come back to Thailand under a new name in their passport, the social security benefits they paid for during the whole four years have gone,” he said.

“They should be redeemed for what they have saved under the social security fund,” Brahm Press added.

The language barrier is another problem the migrants face as they seek to access the benefits for they paid.

Atiwan Chan Chuay, a Thai Lawyer from the MAP Foundation, said she believed there was a good chance that the Thai government would install the social security reforms that the NGOs were demanding.

“Thailand should adopt these specific long-term policies,” she said, adding that this would strengthen the socio-economic position of migrant workers.

The Thai economy relies heavily on cheap, unregulated labor supplied by its poor neighbors Burma, Cambodia and Laos. Estimates of the total number of migrants vary widely, and up to 3 million Burmese and half a million Cambodians are said to be working in Thailand, often performing unskilled jobs in construction sector, restaurants or the fishing industry.

Many cross the border into Thailand illegally and lack official identity papers, Thai working visas and other legal documentation. As a result, many work as unregistered laborers, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation by employers and authorities.

Despite numerous campaigns by migrant rights groups, there has been little improvement in the migrants’ situation in the past decade.