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Cheating poor foreign workers

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Tricks, broken promises & weak laws allow some employers & brokers to make easy money from poor migrant workers. 



Photo of illegal migrant workers after their arrest (Photo: Assawin Pinijwong).

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Brokers chided for cheating poor migrants

Foreign labourers incur heavy debt to get work
26/06/2012
Penchan Charoensuthipan

Labour authorities are accusing brokerage firms of under-paying migrant workers and not providing them with sufficient welfare benefits.

Many companies now hire workers, including foreign migrants, through brokers to eliminate complicated employment formalities and sidestep legal and financial obligations that would arise if they hired them in the conventional way.

Pathom Petchmanee, director of the legal affairs division at the Labour Protection and Welfare Department, said in this scenario the brokers are the workers' employers, not the companies they work for.

The department found that a large percentage of migrant workers' wages goes to brokers, who claim the cut as a management fee. Brokers insist the fee is part of the employment contract.

Mr Pathom said the fee eats into workers' pay, and that brokers also offer only limited welfare benefits.

The Labour Protection and Welfare Department has warned companies against resorting to trickery to avoid paying workers in full by using illegal methods such as deducting expenses from their overtime.

Some employers are accused of seizing workers' travel documents and medical cards, leaving them vulnerable and under the control of their brokers or employers.

Mr Pathom said migrant workers themselves must also follow the law when seeking employment.

For example, he said they must work for the same employer for the duration of their contracts and not switch employers without satisfactory reasons.

Authorities believe frustration with fees led many migrants to stage protests for an increase in their pay in line with the government's minimum wage hike, which has been in effect since April.

The protests were held in April in Kanchanaburi and Songkhla, both provinces with a large number of migrant workers.

Many migrant workers also complained they had incurred heavy debts while trying to secure employment.

They said middlemen to whom they paid large sums of money promised them attractive wages and generous welfare with free accommodation, but they found the opposite was true.

Sompong Sakaew, head of the Labour Rights Promotion Network Foundation, said the 300-baht minimum wage hike has attracted many migrant workers, who have arrived both legally and illegally, in the country.

Brokers in origin countries charge workers labour registration fees and other fees, including for their work permits, he said. As a result, the workers are saddled with debt even before they set foot in Thailand.

Once the workers acquire jobs, they start paying back the debt.

"The migrant workers are baffled to find that large sums are deducted from their wages every month for brokers, for what seems like an eternity," Mr Sompong said.

The workers fall into even heavier debt if they arrive in Thailand illegally, as the cost of securing a safe passage is high, Mr Sompong noted.

Nasser Artwarin, of the Lawyers Council of Thailand's human rights subcommittee, said few migrant workers can communicate in Thai and they do not know the law, which prevents them from complaining to authorities about working conditions.

He said employers have been known to seize and withhold the travel documents of migrant workers, even if they entered the country legally.

The employers then deliberately let the workers' visas expire so they end up as illegal workers, Mr Nasser said. This way, the employers are able to manipulate the workers.

(Source: Bangkok Post, Brokers chided for cheating poor migrants, Foreign labourers incur heavy debt to get work, 26/06/2012, Penchan Charoensuthipan, link


Migrant Labour Rights Vocabulary

migrate (verb) - moving from one place to another อพยพ
migrant workers - people who travel to a different region or country to live and work ผู้อพยพ (See Wikipedia)

foreign migrants
migrants 

chide - to speak to someone in an angry way because you think they did something wrong, criticize

Brokers chided for cheating poor migrants

incur - having to pay an amount of money (examples: incur costs, incur expenses, incur liabilities)
incur heavy debt

debt - an amount of money that you owe หนี้
heavy debt - owe a lot of money that you have to pay back

Foreign labourers incur heavy debt to get work

authorities - government officials; the police or people in official organisations who have the legal power to make people obey laws or rules เจ้าหน้าที่ (ตำรวจ หรือผู้มีอำนาจ)
labour authorities

brokerage - a business that sells things (or people as labour) for other people or businesses (See Wikipedia)
brokerage firms

broker - a person or company who arranges some business transaction (like buying or selling goods or hiring workers)

welfare benefits - money, services, or goods you receive from a government or company programme; things like health insurance that employees receives in addition to their salary and wages สวัสดิภาพ เงินช่วยเหลือ

sufficient - enough พอเพียง
sufficient welfare benefits

Labour authorities are accusing brokerage firms of under-paying migrant workers and not providing them with sufficient welfare benefits.

eliminate - to get rid of completely; to remove completely (so that it no longer exists)
กำจัดหรือขจัดให้หมดไป

complicated - difficult to understand and deal with (for example, a complicated machine or a city with a complicated system of streets) ที่ซับซ้อน
employment - having a paid job

formalities -
something that must be done but does not have much meaning (in a social situation or in an official government process, for example)
complicated employment formalities
eliminate complicated employment formalities

obligations
- things that you must do, your duties and responsibilities ข้อบังคับ  หน้าที่ที่พึงกระทำ
sidestep - to avoid something difficult or unpleasant

sidestep obligations
sidestep legal and financial obligations

conventional
- usual, ordinary, normal; commonly used, standard way of doing something, the usual and accepted way of doing something
ธรรมดา, ตามแบบแผน

conventional way
hired them in the conventional way

Many companies now hire workers, including foreign migrants, through brokers to eliminate complicated employment formalities and sidestep legal and financial obligations that would arise if they hired them in the conventional way.

affairs - events and activities relating to the government, politics, economy etc of a country, region, or the world ความสัมพันธ์ระหว่างประเทศ
legal affairs

division - one part of a large organisation
legal affairs division

scenario - the way a situation could develop in the future; a possible situation in the future; a description of possible actions or events in the future
employers - companies that hire workers

Pathom Petchmanee, director of the legal affairs division at the Labour Protection and Welfare Department, said in this scenario the brokers are the workers' employers, not the companies they work for.

wages - the amount of money earned per hour by a worker

claim - to say something is yours; to say that you are the owner of something
a cut - a part or percentage of some amount of money

fee - an amount of money that you pay to be allowed to do something ค่าธรรมเนียม, ค่าตอบแทน, ค่าบริการ
management fee

insist
- to keep saying very firmly that something is true or that something must be done (not changing mind) ยืนกราน ยืนยัน

contract - a written (or oral) agreement that is legally binding สัญญา
employment contract

The department found that a large percentage of migrant workers' wages goes to brokers, who claim the cut as a management fee. Brokers insist the fee is part of the employment contract.

eats into - takes away from and reduces the size of 
the fee eats into the worker's pay

welfare benefits
limited welfare benefits


Mr Pathom said the fee eats into workers' pay, and that brokers also offer only limited welfare benefits.

resort to - to solve a difficult problem do something bad or unpleasant
trick - doing something bad to other people (unfair, unpleasant) to gain some benefit for yourself 

trickery - doing tricks to people to gain some benefit
resorting to trickery

illegal
- against the law ผิดกฎหมาย, นอกกฎหมาย
illegal methods

deducting expenses -
subtract or take away money for expenses
overtime - extra hours worked beyond normal hours (with extra pay)

The Labour Protection and Welfare Department has warned companies against resorting to trickery to avoid paying workers in full by using illegal methods such as deducting expenses from their overtime.

seize - take away
seizing worker's travel documents

vulnerable
- easily affected or damaged ซึ่งถูกทำลายได้ง่าย ซึ่งถูกทำลายได้ง่าย ที่เปราะบาง ที่ล่อแหลมต่อการเกิดภัยภิบัติ

Some employers are accused of seizing workers' travel documents and medical cards, leaving them vulnerable and under the control of their brokers or employers. Mr Pathom said migrant workers themselves must also follow the law when seeking employment.

employer - a person, company, or organisation that pays someone to work for them as a member of their staff นายจ้าง

duration
- length of time that something exists for
work for the same employer for the duration of their contract

switch
- a change to something different เปลี่ยน
switch employers

satisfactory reasons

For example, he said they must work for the same employer for the duration of their contracts and not switch employers without satisfactory reasons.

fees - money that you pay to be allowed to do something ค่าธรรมเนียม

frustration - an annoyed or discouraged feeling because you cannot do or have what you want ความผิดหวัง, ความไม่พอใจ
frustration with fees

protests - meetings, sometimes forceful or violent, or public statements by people who strongly disagree with something ชุมนุมประท้วง

stage
- to organise and event ทำการเปลี่ยนแปลง ปฏิวัติ
stage protests

in line with - following, agreeing with

wage - an amount of money that you earn for working, usually according to how many hours or days you work each week or month ค่าจ้าง
minimum wage - the smallest amount of money that you can pay a person for their work
minimum wage hike - minimum wage increase 

Authorities believe frustration with fees led many migrants to stage protests for an increase in their pay in line with the government's minimum wage hike, which has been in effect since April. The protests were held in April in Kanchanaburi and Songkhla, both provinces with a large number of migrant workers.

incurred heavy debts

secure - get something that is difficult to get ได้มาซึ่ง
secure employment

Many migrant workers also complained they had incurred heavy debts while trying to secure employment.

middlemen - people between the factory and producer and the consumer or customer พ่อค้าคนกลาง

attractive - worth having or doing น่าสนใจ
attractive wages

generous
- gives more than is expected or more than others give, more than they need to
generous welfare

free accomodation - a free place to live

They said middlemen to whom they paid large sums of money promised them attractive wages and generous welfare with free accommodation, but they found the opposite was true. Sompong Sakaew, head of the Labour Rights Promotion Network Foundation, said the 300-baht minimum wage hike has attracted many migrant workers, who have arrived both legally and illegally, in the country.

origin - the place where you start from, where you begin at 
origin countries - countries where you start or come from
brokers in origin countries

charge fees
charge workers fees

registration
- recording in an official list
labour registration fees

charge workers labour registration fees

saddled with debt -
borrow a lot of money and have difficulty repaying the money

set foot in Thailand - enter the country of Thailand

Brokers in origin countries charge workers labour registration fees and other fees, including for their work permits, he said. As a result, the workers are saddled with debt even before they set foot in Thailand.

acquire - to get; to obtain ได้มาซึ่ง
acquire jobs - get jobs

deduct from wages
large sums are deducted from their wages

eternity
seems like an eternity


safe passage
securing a safe passage


"Once the workers acquire jobs, they start paying back the debt. "The migrant workers are baffled to find that large sums are deducted from their wages every month for brokers, for what seems like an eternity," Mr Sompong said. The workers fall into even heavier debt if they arrive in Thailand illegally, as the cost of securing a safe passage is high, Mr Sompong noted.

rights - what the law allows you to have and do สิทธิ์ (See Wikipedia)
human rights

communicate in Thai - speak or write to each other in the Thai language

working conditions

seize
- to take something using force จับกุม  ยึดครอง, ยึด
withhold - to deliberately not give something to someone
seize and withhold the travel documents of migrant workers

expire
- to come to an end or stop being in use หมดอายุ
visa expires

deliberately - they intend to do it, they know what they are doing, not an accident; they really want to do this; done on purpose จงใจ ตั้งใจ
employers then deliberately let the workers' visas expire so they end up as illegal workers

manipulate
- to control something or someone to your advantage, often unfairly or dishonestly ชักใย
employers are able to manipulate the workers

Nasser Artwarin, of the Lawyers Council of Thailand's human rights subcommittee, said few migrant workers can communicate in Thai and they do not know the law, which prevents them from complaining to authorities about working conditions. He said employers have been known to seize and withhold the travel documents of migrant workers, even if they entered the country legally. The employers then deliberately let the workers' visas expire so they end up as illegal workers, Mr Nasser said. This way, the employers are able to manipulate the workers.

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