The way we treat our two million migrant workers is absolutely appalling! We treat them as we see them. We don't seem to see them as human beings with human rights, or as important (even essential) contributors to the Thai economy.
In a letter of October 26th urging factories to keep a close watch and control over their migrant workers, the Governor of Samut Sakhon province described the problems caused by "the alien worker community, particularly Burmese workers, who live together in large numbers" as consisting of "health problems, dependents, stateless children, crimes, violations of laws, together with the display of their culture and traditions at local festivals and organised events which is inappropriate and should not be encouraged as it leads to feelings that they own the community..." [my translation]
On October 31st the Thai News Agency reported that a 700-strong task force of police officers raided the Samut Sakhon shrimp market, nearby communities, two seafood factories and a low-income workers encampment, detaining about 1,200 Burmese immigrant workers, including 30 babies, to check their documents. During the raid, the police found two Buddhist monks from Burma who said they were visiting relatives here and giving sermons and otherwise ministering to the Burmese community. Police questioned them as to whether they might have been involved in convincing Burmese workers to protest military rule in Myanmar.
Earlier, on October 8th police arrested Mr. U Kyaw Lwin, a Burmese migrant worker and community leader in Samut Sakhon with a legal work permit. It seems that his "crime" was to organise social activities among the migrant worker community such as establishment of savings schemes, health programs, and a community library. Police accused him of carrying out political activities because in his room they found copies of General Aung Sun's speeches and documentary CDs of the current Buddhist Monks' movement in Burma, as well as pictures of General Aung Sun and Daw Aung Sun Suu Kyi on the wall. His work permit was revoked and he was deported to Burma.
Earlier in the year Phuket, Pang-Nga, Ranong and Rayong provinces announced provincial regulations prohibiting migrant workers from using mobile phones, driving motorcycles and other vehicles, gathering together for any activities except religious ceremonies, or leaving their living quarters after 9 p.m. unless assigned to night shift. The Rayong announcement states that a section of the migrant workforce "has behaved in ways that indicate they are a danger to society or are likely carry out evil acts endangering peace and order, the lives and property of citizens, or national security" [my translation]
According to a May 14th report in the Nation, the National Human Rights Commission has investigated the case of six fishing trawlers with about 100 crew, mainly migrant workers, which sailed from Samut Sakhon in July 2003 to fish in Indonesian waters. The crew were not allowed to return for three years during which time 38 of them died while others returned home seriously ill, emaciated, emotionally disturbed, or unable to see, hear or walk properly. A Samut Sakhon Hospital diagnosed the men with serious vitamin deficiencies. None of the men were paid. The boat owners claimed that crew employment was the responsibility of the trawler skippers. Apparently labour law in this country does not cover fishermen working outside Thai territory for more than a year.
On October 28th the Bangkok Post reported on several cases of migrant workers killed or seriously injured while working, whose families were unable to obtain compensation.
These are just some of the grievances of migrant workers in Thailand. It goes without saying that they are employed in jobs that are shunned by Thai workers, experience extremely difficult living and working conditions, and are generally paid lower rates than the legal minimum wage.
The lack of respect for human rights and lack of compassion exhibited by our society reflects badly on all of us. As long as we don't treat our guest workers as human beings, we are not like human beings ourselves.
Jon Ungphakorn is a former elected senator for Bangkok and at present the Chairman of the Thai NGO Coordinating Committee on Development. Comments are welcome at: firstname.lastname@example.org
First Publish in Bangkok Post