Parents of 17-Year Old Unregistered Burmese Migrant Killed at Work To Receive 250, 000 Baht Compensation in Rights Test Case Success

In a migrant rights victory in Thailand, the parents of a 17 year old unregistered male Burmese work accident victim, Sai Htun, today settled their compensation claim against employers of their son at Region 5 Labour Court in Chiangmai, Northern Thailand. Two years after Sai Htun was killed on a local authority flood defence project, the 250, 000 baht (US$7, 143) settlement provides hope for over 2 million Burmese migrants currently working in dangerous workplaces in Thailand. Yet the settlement comes despite systematic and discriminatory failings by the Social Security Office (SSO) to address Burmese migrant’s inability to access compensation from the SSO’s Workmen Compensation Fund (WCF) following work accidents.

On 20th June 2007, two Shan workers from Burma, Sai Boon and Sai Htun, were involved in a work accident in Mae Rim district of Chiangmai Province in Northern Thailand. They were working on a local authority flood defense project when a lorry unloading cement caused the riverbank where they were working to cave in on them. Their employer was a Thai construction contractor and the company in charge of construction on behalf of the local authority was P Corporation.

Sai Boon, a 27-year old Shan with Highlander status, survived the accident with lung injuries, shoulder fractures, severe throat injuries and permanent hearing damage. He remained in hospital for two months. But Sai Htun, a 17-year old unregistered migrant worker from Shan State, Burma, who was one of 3 siblings whose parents were farmers, died of brain injuries 4 days after the accident.

Sai Htun came to Thailand in March 2007 and worked with family in a longan orchard before getting work on the construction project in Chiangmai for 170 baht (US$4.80) per day. He remained unregistered because at the time he entered into Thailand there was no registration system open for him to apply to work legally. Sai Htun’s relatives paid 5, 000 baht (US$143) for medical treatment prior to Sai Htun’s death, and 20, 000 baht (US$571) for a simple funeral according to local tradition and custom following his death. (Photo attached: Sai Htun shortly before his death)

After Sai Htun’s death, relatives immediately contacted his employer demanding compensation. The employer said he would compensate them but later refused, telling relatives that unregistered workers had no rights to accident compensation under Thai law. Both Sai Boon and Sai Htun’s cases, with the support of the Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF), were submitted to SSO Chiangmai in September 2007. Officials accepted Sai Boon’s claim to accident compensation from the Workmen’s Compensation Fund (WCF), given his status as a Highlander. But in Sai Htun’s case, officials said they could only issue an order for his employer to informally pay compensation to his dependents. SSO insisted Sai Htun was not a worker entitled to access the WCF as he was an ‘illegal and unregistered alien.’

Between December 2007 and March 2008, when contacted for updates on the case, SSO officials said letters has been issued to Sai Htun’s employer to discuss the case with them, but he had not attended. In March 2008 officials said that they had transferred the case to the Royal Thai Police giving the reason that the employer has refused to respond. Finally in June 2009, under increased pressure from media coverage of the case, SSO Chiangmai issued an order in Sai Htun’s case saying that his relatives were entitled to compensation of almost 300, 000 baht from his employer. SSO would not however state in the order whom these ‘relatives’ were, despite being provided with numerous official documents from his family translated from Burmese into Thai and English.

Given a lack of faith in the ability of the SSO bureaucracy to ensure justice in Sai Htun’s cross border compensation claim, his parents, by means of a Chiangmai relative, had meanwhile submitted his case to Chiangmai Labour Court in June 2008. After informal negotiations over a period of 15 months, finally today Sai Htun’s employers agreed to the 250, 000 baht settlement at the Court, on the condition that once paid in full over 6 installments, relatives will no longer demand compensation according to the SSO order.

Somchai Homla-or, HRDF’s Secretary General, welcomes this settlement: ‘HRDF considers this settlement was in the best interests of the parents of Sai Htun who reside in Shan State, Burma. It will allow them security in their lives having already lost their youngest son due to the negligence of a Thai employer. The success in this case gives hope to millions of migrants in Thailand, as it shows how, despite Sai Htun’s unregistered status and despite the cross border nature of the claim, justice could be done.’

Somchai also said: ‘Thai employers can learn lessons from this case that:

(1) They should not put profits before safety; and (2) They should joins hand with migrant workers, as well as human rights and labour organizations, to help migrants access to the WCF to avoid such heavy compensation payments themselves.’

Somchai concludes: ‘We hope at the same time that the SSO will use this case as a case study of their own continued failures, and to improve their own systems to ensure in the future cases like Sai Htun’s can be processed formally through the WCF. Otherwise, without support from organisations like HRDF, this case would have had the same conclusion as all other deaths frequently suffered by Burmese migrant workers in dangerous workplaces in Thailand; unexposed, unremedied and free.’

*The Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF) is a registered Thai Foundation working to strengthen standards on human rights, democracy and peace in Thailand.

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