On International Migrant’s Day (18th December 2010), the State Enterprises Workers’ Relations Confederation (SERC), the Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF) and the Thai Labour Solidarity Committee (TLSC) requests the Royal Thai Government (RTG) to re-open registration for all migrants in Thailand, review its deportation policy, cooperate with the United Nations in examination of violation of migrant rights, repeal discriminatory policies affecting migrants including wage deductions for a deportation fund and formulate long term migration policies in response to actual labour demand. Thailand and others members of ASEAN should also sign and ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers and Their Families.
Migration is not new to Thailand as for 20 years the RTG’s policies have allowed for yearly registration of migrants who illegally entered the country so they could “temporarily live and work in Thailand whilst awaiting repatriation”. Migration policy was developed through Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed with Lao PDR, Cambodia and Myanmar in 2002 and 2003 with the aim to enhance cooperation in importing labour legally into Thailand and verifying nationality of migrants who originally entered the country illegally.
In 2010, over 1 million migrants registered with the RTG. It is estimated the actual number of migrants and their dependents in Thailand is at least 2 million however, with more than 80% from Myanmar. Although political, social and economic pressure as well as ethnic and civil conflict in Myanmar constitute the main push factors for migrants coming to Thailand, low skilled labour demand also plays an important role as a pull factor. This is particularly the case for work which is demanding, dirty, and dangerous and that Thai workers normally avoid such as fisheries, agriculture and construction. According to research, dependency rates for migrants in Thai production sectors range from 9% to 16%. Migrants contribute greatly to increases in gross domestic product (GDP) and need for migrant labour in Thailand will likely increase with economic growth in the future.
The RTG has announced policies to solve challenges of illegal migration and employment of migrants to correspond to labour demand whilst resolving challenges of status and rights of migrants, taking into account the balance between safeguarding fundamental human rights and maintaining national security. The RTG’s policies have been two-sided by allowing migrants to enter and work legally in Thailand whilst arresting and deporting unregistered workers. These policies have not achieved their objectives however. On the contrary, a loophole has been provided for corruption and abuse of power by State officials that has worsened the situation, particularly of unregistered migrants. SERC, HRDF and TLSC draw attention to the following:
1. The Nationality Verification process (NV) has proceeded slowly and has been unable to reach most migrant workers. In addition, the RTG’s deportation policy for those who have not entered NV does not correspond to existing labour demands in Thailand. Only 1 million migrants entered NV such that an estimated 1 million unregistered migrants continue to face the risk of being arrested and subjected to abuse of power by enforcement officials and others. Extensive reports on violation of rights of migrants during deportation have been submitted to the RTG but have not been examined carefully and no-one has been prosecuted.
2. Failure to review discriminatory regulations has resulted in migrant workers being unable to access various rights. This includes a Social Security Office regulation denying migrants access to the Workmen’s Compensation Fund (WCF), a Ministerial regulation which specifies agricultural and fishery workers (many of whom are migrants) are not protected by labour protection law, prohibition of migrants from changing employers and a prohibition on migrants from obtaining drivers licenses.
3. Deduction of the wages of migrants from Cambodia, Lao PDR and Myanmar is to begin in January 2011 with funds remitted into an Alien’s Repatriation Fund. This Fund does not apply to workers from other countries working in Thailand and is discriminatory. Deductions create excessive burdens on migrants with low income. In addition migrants continue to face high costs from NV as they must pay excessive fees to unregulated brokers as well as registration, work permit fees and health insurance premiums. Workers who complete NV must make contributions to the Social Security Fund without receiving full benefits as prescribed by the law.
4. The import of migrants under MOU’s is excessively costly (with brokers also remaining unregulated) and is not proceeding systematically. Labour import cannot respond to existing labour demands in Thailand. Since 2003 only 24, 000 workers have been imported into Thailand with only 700 from Myanmar.
With a view to assisting the RTG’s development of future migration policies to respond to existing labour market demand in line with humanitarian principles and the rule of law, and so as to prevent corruption and continued human rights violation against migrants, SERC, HRDF and the TLSC propose as follows:
1. The RTG should review its migrant deportation policy and re-open registration for all migrants in Thailand, including those not previously registered. All migrants can then come forward to register and are able to enter NV. The RTG should also genuinely regulate NV brokers and ensure they charge reasonable fees.
2. The RTG should expedite investigations into rights violations against migrants, particularly when officials are involved and particularly those occurring during deportation. To ensure independent and transparent investigations and taking into account international standards to be upheld by Thailand as President of the Human Right Council, UN Special Rapporteurs should be invited to participate in such investigations.
3. The RTG should repeal discriminatory regulations preventing migrants from accessing labour and other basic rights, as required under Thai and international laws. The RTG should carefully review the policy on deducting migrant salaries for remittance to an Alien’s Repatriation Fund.
4. For the purpose of effectively regulating migration and preventing corruption and violation of migrant rights, the RTG should formulate a long term migration policy with the establishment of a specific independent agency to be responsible for implementing this policy. All relevant government agencies, migrants, employers and civil society should be enabled to participate in such policy formulation. The RTG should engage with all countries, but particularly with Myanmar’s authorities, to resolve challenges faced with NV, preventing deception of workers coming to Thailand and the suppression of human trafficking.
5. RTG should co-operate with all ASEAN member states to genuinely resolve challenges faced in managing migration and preventing human trafficking by raising both issues high on ASEAN’s agenda. The RTG, together with all ASEAN member states, should also accede to the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and their Families.
Migrants contribute to development of the Thai economy and society. Nevertheless, these workers are often viewed only as a production factor while their humanity is overlooked. On the occasion of the 20th Anniversary of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Their Families, and given that Thailand is currently the President of the UN’s Human Right Council, now provides a good opportunity for the RTG to genuinely consider our proposals so as to manage migration in a more systematic manner. This will assist the RTG to achieve its commitment to promoting the participatory role of Thailand in the efforts of the global community and to promote and protect democratic values, human rights, humanitarian principles as well as resolving all challenges that affect human security.