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Monday, August 09, 2010
How we bully our migrant workers
So we want migrant workers from Burma to be legal with passports and all, yet we still want them to submit to our old oppressive ways, is that it?
If not, then why have we refused to give legal migrant workers driving licences - on the grounds that they still pose a threat to national security?
The provincial authorities in Ranong recently stopped issuing driving licences to a batch of legal Burmese workers, following a protest from some 200 Ranong motorcyclists who feared that migrant workers would steal their jobs if allowed to drive.
Worse, they might abuse their new privilege and smuggle drugs and illegal workers into the country, said the motorcyclists.
Their concerns are understandable. But isn't it the job of the police to arrest law breakers? Aren't drug and human trafficking rings reportedly run by men in uniform, and not by migrant workers?
Also, is it right to comply to a demand which violates a basic human right of another person? Do we not consider the right to movement a basic human right? Or do we simply not see migrant workers as human? What is our real problem?
These workers have fled harsh poverty and persecution in Burma to toil here doing dirty and dangerous work at pitiful wages. Yet we condemn them as unwanted outsiders who burden us with social problems and infectious diseases. We dismiss the fact that it is our government's support for the atrocious Burmese junta that has forced them to flee their homeland.
And it is our prejudice that makes us blind to their slave-like conditions.
We Thais pride ourselves as free people in a free land. Yet we celebrate confinement, which is part of slavery, for migrant workers. Why is that so?
Since we brand them illegal, which is criminal in our view, we believe the problems from migrant workers and human trafficking will disappear if all Burmese workers have legal entry. So we forcibly deport them to face danger, extortion and complex red tape back in Burma in order to obtain the passports, not to mention the astronomical fees involved. So far, only about 90,000 out of 2-3 million Burmese migrant workers in Thailand have succeeded in obtaining their passports.
Yet, after going through a difficult process, these legal workers are not promised the legal minimum wage nor the right to change employers. They are allowed to work only as labourers and domestic workers and, as before, denied the freedom of movement. With such little benefits, most migrant workers prefer to stay underground and remain exploited while human trafficking rings continue to thrive.
Regarding the Ranong incident, the driving licences for migrant workers are actually private and cannot be used for plying or running taxis or taxi-motorcycles. Also, migrant workers - legal or illegal - cannot travel outside their restricted zones. So a driving licence would only help them to commute within their area without fear of police extortion. Yet, this too is beyond their reach.
No, I am not writing about all this because it is a matter of life and death for migrant workers in Ranong to go buy food on their motorcycles. But it is a matter of life and death for us.
How can we get out of our political abyss and avoid future carnage if we still don't see the weak and the poor as our equal human beings?
At the core of the social injustice and double standards that are threatening to tear our country apart is this very lack of respect for lawful needs and concerns of the people we view as inferior to ourselves, isn't it? Migrant workers are at the lowest rung of our big-fish-eat-little-fish world. How we treat them is an indicator of social justice itself.
The May bloodshed may have shocked us into trying to fix structural injustice. But don't bet on it if we still feel it is okay to treat migrant workers the way we do now. We cannot hope to get closer to a fair society because we do not have in our hearts what it takes to make this happen.
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