On 15 and 16 December 2022, the Mekong Migration Network (MMN) convened a Multi-Stakeholder Workshop on Migrants’ Access to Social Security. The workshop provided an opportunity for wide-ranging discussion on the challenges migrants face accessing Thailand’s Social Security System. The workshop was attended by representatives of relevant ministries of the Thai and Cambodian governments, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), the International Labour Organization (ILO), migrant worker representatives, and other related stakeholders from Cambodia, Thailand, and Myanmar.
In her opening remarks, MMN Regional Coordinator, Ms. Reiko Harima, stated that the workshop was timely given the recent adoption of the ASEAN Declaration on the Portability of Social Security for Migrant Workers. Furthermore, it is an apt moment to take onboard lessons from the Covid-19 crisis, as MMN’s research found that a lack of social security coverage among migrant workers in Thailand contributed towards hardship and destitution following the wave of redundancies that swept through the economy.
The workshop’s first plenary began with Mr. Markus Ruck, a Social Protection Specialist at the ILO, setting out the various international standards applicable to migrant workers’ right to social security. Mr. Ouk Samonn, Director of the Customer Services and Public Relations Department of the National Social Security Fund, under Cambodia’s Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training, then gave an overview of the Cambodian Social Security System and an update on the action being taken regarding social security benefits for migrants among CLMTV countries (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam). The final speaker of the first plenary, Ms. Kanokkarn Suksuntichai, Director of the Thailand ASEAN Unit within the Thai Ministry of Labour, presented on her Ministry’s work assisting migrants in light of the Covid-19 crisis. She emphasised that Thailand’s Labour Protection Act provides all workers with the right to equal benefits without discrimination. Ms. Suksuntichai explained that the Ministry “also provides services [including a] complaints channel and a call centre with interpreters for migrants from neighbouring countries”.
The second plenary commenced with a short film of highlights from MMN’s recent round of migrant consultations on access to social security. The film highlighted, among other issues, the language barriers, information deficits, lack of coordination between employers and government departments, and discrimination migrant workers face in accessing social security. It was followed by a lively panel discussion in which migrant worker representatives, spokespersons from MMN member organisations (EMPOWER, MAP, FED, and RTF), and a senior official from Thailand’s Social Security Office discussed the issues raised in the film. Migrant worker representative, Ms. Moe Moe Khai gave a detailed first-hand account of the way her employer failed to inform her of her right to join Thailand’s Social Security System and related the hurdles her son experienced trying to claim benefits.
Following the panel discussion, Mr. Mattanapong Konghom, a Senior Labour Specialist, at the Thai Ministry of Labour’s Social Security Office spoke on the policies and strategies currently being pursued to expand migrants’ access to social security. He began by reaffirming the Ministry of Labour’s commitment to equal service provision, before outlining their mission for 2023, which includes enhancing labour inspections and enforcement. He stated that “we are going to improve the service of social security provision [and be in] active communication with workers”.
The final presentation of the second plenary was delivered by Mr. Amnaj Sangsrikaew, a Senior Labour Specialist at the Foreign Workers Administration Office within the Thai Ministry of Labour. His presentation focused on documentation issues, and in so doing went through the eligibility requirements contained within the Social Security Act.
The third plenary focused on the role of countries of origin in facilitating migrants’ access to Social Security. The first presentation of the plenary was delivered by Mr. Kem Chanroeun, General Deputy Director of the General Department of Labour at the Cambodian Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training. He commenced by reaffirming the Cambodian government’s commitment to ensure that all Cambodian migrants in Thailand have access to social security, before outlining the various laws and bilateral agreements in place to meet this objective. In addition, he said that the Cambodian government has labour attachés in Thailand to support migrant workers. However, he acknowledged that some migrants, particularly those registered under Cabinet Resolutions, often do not know how to contact the labour attaché when in need. On the Thai side, he recommended disseminating videos in Khmer on social media to raise awareness of the Social Security System and making the administrative process for joining less bureaucratic.
The second presentation of the third plenary was delivered by MMN Consultant, Ms Carli Melo. Her presentation drew on the preliminary findings from MMN’s ongoing longitudinal study on the roles of countries of origin in improving migrants’ access to social protection at different stages of the migration cycle. Ms Melo explained that the preliminary results pointed to a general unfamiliarity among migrants with the details of specific social security benefits and that major challenges remain in terms of access, notably language barriers and negative social interactions. Pre-departure training also appears inadequate as respondents said they could not remember or could not understand what they were told. Ms. Melo emphasised that it is important to reflect on the continued need for information and services in migrant languages; greater dissemination of accurate information at different stages of the migration cycle; simplified processes for migrants to be able to access benefits themselves; and consideration of the contexts of countries of origin.
In the plenary’s final presentation, Mr. Brahm Press, Executive Director of MAP Foundation highlighted the particular challenges migrants from Myanmar face in accessing social security. In particular, he noted the impact of the 2021 military coup in Myanmar, which has impeded migrants’ ability to access social security as MoU migrants, while generally the processing of documents has become difficult due in part to migrants’ fear and mistrust of the military regime.
Before closing, MMN Regional Coordinator, Ms. Reiko Harima, facilitated small-group discussions in view of compiling a list of recommendations on improving access to social security to be submitted to the Thai Ministry of Labour. Migrant worker representatives, Ms. Moe Moe Khai and Mr. Hien Thu Aung, provided the workshop’s closing remarks, in which they appreciated the opportunity to elevate the voices of migrants in a multi-stakeholder setting.
To read in full the proceedings of the workshop please click here.