Holding a temporary passport has given no protection of the rights of Burmese workers at the Dechapanich Fishing Net Factory in Khon Kaen. The workers have to work one and a half hours free every day from 5.00pm to 6.30pm to pay off the cost of the passport and are not allowed to maintain possession of their passports. When six workers were fired for taking more than three days leave a month, they demanded the return of their personal documents, and found that the word “cancel” had been casually written next to their visa. In addition, their Overseas Workers Identification Card, issued by Ministry of Labour, Union of Myanmar, had clearly been tampered with as the photos and information were non-matching and the stamps were not continuously drawn. They are now facing imminent deportation, endorsed by the employer, the Labour Protection Office and the Department of Employment.
Over 1,000 Burmese workers in the factory have been out on strike since September 8th in support of these six workers and to negotiate other long term grievances. The workers have four major demands:
1. For the visas of the six workers to be re-instated and for their Overseas Workers ID cards to be verified.
2. For all workers to have possession over their personal documents, including passports, Overseas Workers ID cards and work permits, as is required by law.
3. For the shops in their labour camp to be re-opened.
4. Proper payment of the minimum wage and overtime in compliance with the labour laws. An immediate end to the system of bonded labour (working for one and a half hours free each day for a year).
The workers have been unable to meet the employer to negotiate their demands. At a meeting held between the Labour Protection Office, the employer and the immigration and MAP, the demands of the workers were presented but no agreements were reached. The employer insisted that the immigration authorities had cancelled the workers visas and they were therefore unable to work and must be deported. In actual fact, in order for immigration to cancel a visa, the employer must inform the Labour Protection Office which must then officially inform the immigration department. Any cancellation must include a reason and the signature of the authorizing officer. In this case, only the word “cancel” was written next to the two year visa.
Regarding the second demand, the employer tried to justify the act of illegally confiscating personal documents by saying that the workers might otherwise leave before they had paid off their debt, thus endorsing a system of debt bondage. He also said that it was easier for the employer to arrange the 90 day regulation, requiring all migrants to report to immigration authorities every 90 days. In a meeting earlier in the day with the local Department of Employment, they had also given the same explanation despite the confiscation of personal documents being an illegal act.
Regarding the third demand, the employer insisted that the workers received more than the minimum wage and claimed not to be aware of the work for free passport payment system. While the workers claimed that they receive only 140 baht a day (minimum wage in Khon Kaen is 157 baht), work for one and a half hours for free, then receive overtime payment of 30 baht an hour.
Over 1,000 workers continue to strike for their demands to be answered. They understand that an official from the Burmese embassy is on their way to Khon Kaen, but it is not yet known whether this official will assist in negotiating for the rights of the workers or if he will conduct the deportation of the workers. MAP Foundation has made an official request to the Committee on the Administration of Irregular Workers, Ministry of Labour, Thailand to ensure that the migrant workers are not unlawfully deported and that their case is investigated, particularly with reference to the unauthorized cancellation of their visas and the tampering of their overseas identification Cards of the workers.
MAP Foundation is concerned for the safety of all the workers in the Deepanachit Fishing Net Factory and in particular for the safety of the six leaders. The regularization of migrants through the issuing of passports and visas should provide protection to workers, but it appears to be used as a method of control and further exploitation. The workers have the right to strike and the right to have their grievances heard, the Ministry of Labour should be actively working to ensure that this right is being adhered to throughout Thailand.