During the MMN publication launch on 30 January 2020, migrant workers revealed that working and living conditions in Thailand’s agricultural sector are in urgent need of improvement.
Mekong Migration Network (MMN), a network of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) advocating for migrants’ rights in the Mekong region, launched the report “Migrant Agricultural Workers in Thailand” on 30 January 2020 at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Thailand. The report presents the findings of a collaborative research from 2017 to 2019, which highlights the living and working conditions of migrant workers from Cambodia and Myanmar employed in Thailand’s agricultural sector. Focusing specifically on the experiences of workers on corn, cassava, palm oil, and rubber plantations, the resulting study highlights their experiences and analyses gaps in existing protection mechanisms. Over 40 participants, representing migrant workers, the Thai Ministry of Labour, CSOs, intergovernmental organisations, academia, and the press, gathered to hear MMN’s research findings and discuss migration and labour issues in the agricultural sector.
The key findings from the MMN research highlighted the challenges migrant agricultural workers face. This included the difficulty in getting legal immigration status, given the prohibitively high registration costs relative to the average incomes migrant agricultural workers receive. In fact, half of the migrant workers surveyed were undocumented. MMN research also pointed out the long working hours, especially among migrant workers in rubber plantations, with a significant number of them working over 12 hours. The majority (64.2%) of migrant workers surveyed receive below Thai Baht (THB) 9000 per month, well below the minimum wage. Some migrants also experienced having their documents confiscated by employers. Additionally, housing conditions and occupational health and safety were found to be substandard.
At the event, Mr. Win Zaw Oo, an agricultural migrant worker who has worked in corn, pineapple and sugar cane plantations in Thailand over the past 17 years, stated, “We get very low wages working in agriculture in Mae Sot. Our daily wage is THB 150, and THB 200 if we are able to drive trucks. This is not enough to support our daily lives…we need help to negotiate with our employers for a higher wage.”
Reporting on common issues faced by migrants in the agricultural sector, Mr. Sutthisak Rungrueangphasuk, from MAP Foundation, a CSO that works in Mae Sot, explained, “Migrant agricultural workers come to Thailand for a better life, but they cannot afford to send their children to school or register for legal status in Thailand…Migrants live and work in hard-to-reach places and their housing conditions are not good.” In line with MMN research findings, Ms. Wai Phyo from the Foundation for Education and Development, a CSO supporting migrants in Phang Nga, shared her concerns about occupational health and safety. “Many migrants do not have Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) because it is not provided by employers. Those who own PPE have to buy it themselves. Moreover, women migrant workers get lower wages than male workers, despite doing the same work.”
On behalf of the Ministry of Labour, Royal Thai Government, Assistant to the Permanent Secretary, Ms. Patana Bhandhufalch, responded to concerns by explaining, “the Thai government is making a number of efforts to improve working conditions of migrant agricultural workers, but there are still gaps in policy formulation and implementation…From October 2019 to January 2020, labour inspections have been conducted in 451 workplaces in the agriculture sector, covering 4,567 workers. Of these, eight workplaces were found not to have met labour standards.” In response to a question on the number of migrant workers in these workplaces inspected, she explained that the breakdown is not available.
The press conference ended with MMN highlighting the urgent need to improve working and living conditions of agricultural workers who are left unprotected despite their significant contribution to the Thai economy and society. MMN continues to call for the protection of all agricultural workers, including migrants, under the Labour Protection Act (1998).
The report “Migrant Agricultural Workers in Thailand” is also accessible at https://mekongmigration.org/?p=7951.
|ABOUT THE MEKONG MIGRATION NETWORK
The Mekong Migration Network (MMN) is a sub-regional network of CSOs and research institutes that has been working towards the protection and promotion of migrants’ rights in the Mekong Sub-region since 2001. MMN members operate in both countries of origin and destination and have unique expertise in the field and close contact with migrant workers at a grassroots level. MMN also has regular dialogue with government stakeholders in the Mekong Sub-region. For more information about MMN, please visit our webpage at: www.mekongmigration.org.