On 18 July 2022, the Mekong Migration Network (MMN), in partnership with the Foundation for Education and Development (FED), organized the second in a series of consultations focusing on migrants’ access to Social Security. The consultation, held in Phang Nga, Southern Thailand, was attended by 28 migrant workers (15 men and 13 women) from Myanmar working in various sectors, including construction, domestic work, and hospitality. It provided a forum for migrants to share their experiences, meet representatives of the Social Security Office, and directly advocate for better access to Social Security.

MMN’s series of migrant consultations on this issue is timely as lessons need to be learnt from the Covid-19 crisis, which saw migrants in Thailand experience much hardship following the wave of redundancies that swept through the economy. In our study, Surviving the Pandemic, we found that minimal access to Social Security contributed to many migrants returning to their countries of origin through rapidly closing borders and against public health guidance, as longstanding hurdles, both legal and practical, prevented them from accessing benefits in their time of need.


The consultation began with migrant participants brainstorming their experiences of the Thai Social Security System. During the initial discussion, several participants mentioned that their employers had not enrolled them in the system. Others felt that “double standards” were at work when they attended the Social Security Office, as officers appeared less willing to assist migrant workers than Thai nationals. Participants all agreed that the language barrier presented a major obstacle in accessing services at the Social Security Office, while others expressed concern that they would be unable to withdraw their lump sum Social Security payment when they returned to their country of origin.

Small Group Discussion

Following the brainstorming exercise, migrant participants were divided into two small groups according to their Social Security status. In these groups, they discussed the specific challenges they face accessing Social Security and formulated recommendations to submit to the Social Security Office during the afternoon session.

The first group, consisting of those currently or previously enrolled in the Social Security System, reiterated the point that employers are often reluctant, or refuse, to enrol their migrant employees. In some cases, they said that migrants are forced to pay both employee and employer contributions. They added, that employers are sometimes unwilling to provide the necessary documents when migrant employees claim benefits. Members of the group said that such problems are compounded by the language barrier, which creates difficulties when dealing, both with employers and the Social Security Office. A participant from Myanmar said that they were unhappy that:

“Our right to receive medical treatment is restricted. When we enrol in the Social Security System, we are asked to choose a hospital to be treated in. Therefore, if we live in Takua Pa, Phang Nga, we can only receive treatment at Takua Pa Hospital and cannot use the hospital in Phuket [without paying in advance]”.

The group recommended greater flexibility in this regard and also suggested that migrants from all employment sectors be eligible to enrol in the Social Security System.

The second group, consisting of migrants who had never enrolled in the Social Security System, shared their experiences of employers who avoid enrolling their migrant employees. During the discussion, it emerged that some participants in the group knew very little about the Social Security System and that, in their experience, the Social Security Office never disseminates information within migrant communities. One participant from Myanmar said that:

“We are often exploited and experience racial discrimination. When officials [at the Social Security Office] realise, we are Burmese, they become disinterested and rarely assist us as they should.”

Following the small group discussions, participants reconvened to finalise the list of recommendations and nominate representatives to present them to the officials from the Social Security Office.

Recommendations to the Social Security Office

In the afternoon session, migrant participants were joined by representatives of the Phang Nga Social Security Office, Mr. Uthai Kanchana, the Head of the Contributions and Monitoring Department, and Ms. Montira Pansawat, the Head of the Benefits Department. The nominated migrant participants presented them with the following recommendations to improve access to the Social Security System and make it a more migrant-friendly service:

  1. Assist migrant workers to overcome the language barrier when claiming benefits by providing interpreters at the Social Security Office;
  2. Improve information dissemination to make it easier for migrant workers to understand how to enrol in the Social Security System and claim benefits;
  3. Improve channels of communication between the Social Security Office, employers, and migrant workers;
  4. Lift the restrictions on workers in certain sectors that prevent them from enrolling in the Social Security System; and
  5. End discrimination against migrant workers attending the Social Security Office.

After listening to these recommendations, Mr. Kanchana, and Ms. Pansawat presented an overview of the Social Security System. In so doing, they outlined the various types of benefits available to those enrolled, including sickness, disability, maternity, child allowance, retirement, and unemployment benefits. They also elaborated on the responsibilities of employers, along with the penalties that can be imposed on those who breach the rules.

Q & A Session

In the question-and-answer session that followed, Mr. Kanchana and Ms. Pansawat of the Social Security Office answered questions posed by migrant participants. In response to a question concerning compensation payable in the event of a worker’s death, they explained that the relatives of deceased workers enrolled in the system could claim compensation in their countries of origin by contacting the Thai Embassy and that the documentary requirements are the same as if the claim was made at the Social Security Office. They added that in cases where a person enrolled in the system suffers from a chronic condition, medical expenses would continue to be covered until the illness is cured.

Migrant participants also took the opportunity to share their personal experiences with the Social Security Office representatives. They emphasised the fact that the language barrier is extremely problematic in terms of access. They said that without official information in migrant languages, they are forced to rely on social media and word of mouth within the community, which often proves inaccurate. In response, the officials from the Social Security Office acknowledged that more needs to be done in this regard and confirmed that the Phang Nga Social Security Office does not have a Burmese interpreter. They said that:

“When migrants attend the Social Security Office, they should first contact the Personnel Department or their employer’s representative as sometimes we do not understand the needs of migrants.”

In response, some participants explained that their employers force them to use the services of brokers to renew documents, enrol in the Social Security System and claim benefits. They added that government entities should do more to tackle corruption as officials sometimes favour brokers and refuse to provide services to migrants unless accompanied by a broker. They said that this is unfair as it means they have to pay more than the actual cost. In response, the officials from the Social Security Office said that employers have a duty to enrol their employees, and if they fail to do so, they should notify the Social Security Office so that action can be taken.

Closing and Takeaways

The Phang Nga consultation concluded with both migrant participants and representatives of the Social Security Office agreeing that the event had been useful and that such activities should continue as they benefit all parties.

A migrant participant sharing experience about Social Security Scheme

A group discussion

Migrant participants presenting recommendations from group discussions

Introducing representatives from Social Security Office, Phang-Nga

Participants at Migrant Consultation on Access to Social Security, Chiang Mai