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ILO: Thailand’s Migrant Policy Continues to Defy International Law

The International Labour Organization (ILO) has strongly criticized Thailand’s government for exploitation of migrant workers. Coming just weeks after the Government pledged to the UN Human Rights Council to priorities migrant rights protection, Thailand’s reputation for exploiting migrants remains in the spotlight.

In a report to the 101st Session of the International Labour Conference, the ILO’s Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations stated that Thailand’s continued denial of work accident compensation from the Social Security Office’s (SSO) Workmen’s Compensation Fund (WCF) to migrant workers from Myanmar breach its obligations as a signatory to ILO Convention 19. The ILO’s ruling, the second in two years, supports a lengthy campaign by unions and human rights groups demanding revocation of this discriminatory policy.

Savit Kaewvarn, General Secretary of SERC, today said: “Migrants in Thailand continue to suffer systematic discrimination as they work hand in hand with Thai workers to develop our economy. Instead of integrating foreign workers into our society, the Thai Government consistently denies them their most fundamental rights. SERC again calls on the Ministry of Labour and all other government agencies to eliminate all discriminatory policies and laws to ensure migrant workers gain the basic rights to which all ‘workers,’ regardless of their nationality and immigration status, are entitled to.”

Kaewvarn continues: “We again call for the immediate revocation of SSO Circular RS0711/W751 that denies migrant access to the WCF.  The government has publicly committed to ending all forms of discrimination in Thailand and upholding rights of migrant workers during its recent Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Ending this out-dated and discriminatory restriction against injured migrants should have been the first act taken to fulfil this pledge, but instead, the still Circular remains.” 

The Ministry of Labour has consistently refused to revoke circular RS0711/W751 despite appeals by the ILO in 2010 and the UN Special Rapporteurs on Migrants and Racism in 2011. Thai courts have consistently refused to overturn the circular also and three test cases seeking revocation of RS0711/W751 remain pending in the Supreme Court. ILO’s recent report adds: “The Committee regrets the Government… is silent regarding demands to amend or repeal this circular...”

According to the ILO’s report: “The Committee urges the Government to ensure … measures to effectively eliminate cases of denial of emergency medical care and related benefits to uninsured migrant workers suffering industrial accidents... The Government should take urgent measures [to create] a comprehensive safety net providing basic protection to all migrants in case of employment injury. It should also require employers to take out an insurance policy for each registered migrant worker employed by them, enforced by a regime of sanctions.”

In a related development, on 8th June 2011 Thailand’s Cabinet approved a non-enforceable private insurance scheme that could be purchased by employers of migrant workers to provide protection following work accidents. Like most labour policies in Thailand, this decision was taken without consultation with unions, workers or rights groups and it is ‘still the policy based on discrimination’, as the ILO specifically notes in its recent report.

As of January 2012, only around 3, 000 migrants were covered by the private insurance scheme. Over a million migrants from Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam continue to be unable to access work accident compensation. Workers and their families continue to face a life of uncertainty and suffering if they incur an accident at work.

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