MMN on Irrawaddy: Thai Government Urged to Repeal New Migrant Labor Law

Thai and Burmese rights groups are to appeal to Thailand’s government to scrap a controversial new labor law that rewards informers who provide information leading to the apprehension of illegal migrant workers.

The law, which took force in March, also requires employers to deduct from the monthly salaries of migrant workers a sum of money to cover repatriation charges if they are deported.

The legislation came in for strong criticism at a three-day meeting in Bangkok of about 20 representatives of Thai and Burmese rights groups. The meeting ended on Tuesday after representatives agreed to call on the Thai government to repeal the law.

Employers are also addressed by the legislation, which provides for prison sentences of up to two years for illegally employing migrant workers. Migrants found to be working illegally face up to five years’ imprisonment.

Informers who provide the authorities with information leading to the apprehension of illegal migrants are promised a reward equivalent to 20 percent of the value of a captured worker’s seized possessions.

Jackie Pollock, a founding member of the Chiang Mai-based Migrant Assistance Program, MAP Foundation, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday, “The system of informing will create more divisions both between migrants and Thai communities, and xenophobia.”

She said the law would also create divisions within migrant communities, since legal and illegal migrants worked alongside each other.

Moe Swe, head of the Mae Sot-based Yaung Chi Oo Workers Association, said he expected the new law would result in an increased crackdown on migrant workers.

Htoo Chit, director of the Grassroots Human Rights Education, said migrant workers were already having to cope with hardship—“This law will only make things worse.”

He said the legislation would make it difficult for refugees from cyclone Nargis to remain in Thailand.

The Bangkok meeting was also attended by representatives of the Mekong Migration Network, the Thai Action Committee for Democracy in Burma and Action Network for Migrants, along with representatives of migrant workers in Laos and Cambodia.

The Action Network for Migrants (Thailand) and the Mekong Migration Network have also issued a joint letter of appeal to the Thai government on behalf of cyclone victims seeking refuge in Thailand. Refugees would only come to Thailand if they had no other means of survival in Burma, the letter said.

The appeal, addressed to the Thai ministries of the interior, labor and social development and human security, also called on the Thai authorities to allow Burmese migrants to return home to visit families who were affected by the cyclone, without losing their right to return to Thailand.

In late 2006, five southern provinces of Thailand, including Phuket, Surat Thani, Ranong, Rayong and Phang Nga, passed local regulations that ban public assembly of more than five migrant workers and banning migrants from owning mobile phones, automobiles and motorcycles. The migrants also have to observe a curfew preventing them from leaving their homes between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m.

In 2008, Thai employers requested 1.2 million migrant workers. However, there are currently only 529,447 registered migrants in Thailand, a figure which is likely to decrease this month when 394,443 of the workers are asked to re-register, according to a statement of Mekong Migration Network released on June 4.

Around 2 million migrants are estimated to be working illegally in Thailand, Most of the migrant workers in Thailand—legal and illegal—are Burmese, employed in factories, commercial farms, the food industry and in the domestic sector, according to Thailand-based labor groups.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008