Myanmar workers want to go home, survey finds

Most Myanmar migrant workers in Thailand would like to return home, and the country could face a shortage of over five million workers as a result by 2025, according to survey results released on Wednesday.

The International Organisation of Migration (IOM) interviewed over 5,000 Myanmar workers in seven provinces that employ the largest numbers of migrants, with 80% expressing a desire to return home – and 41% of these would do so within the next five years.

The report was presented jointly on Wednesday by IOM Thailand and the Asian Research Centre for Migration (ARCM) at Chulalongkorn University on International Migrants Day.

Myanmar nationals currently represent the largest group of migrant workers in Thailand, comprising around two-thirds of the country's 3.5 million migrant worker population. The comprehensive report concludes that Thailand, which is heavily dependent on migrant workers, could face a labour shortage of more than five million in the next 12 years.

Aung San Suu Kyi speaks to Myanmar migrant workers in the fishing town of Mahachai in Samut Sakhon last year. (Photo by Pawat Laopaisarntaksin)

"The results indicate that many migrants are looking to return to Myanmar within a few years.  If this is the case, then Thailand may well be confronted with a shortage of workers, which highlights the need to improve salaries and work conditions to remain competitive. Thailand should also continue to facilitate registration for work visas," says Jeffrey Labovitz, chief of mission at IOM Thailand.

The report shows that fully documented and decently paid migrants experience higher levels of satisfaction with working in Thailand and, despite feeling more optimistic about their prospects in Myanmar, are planning to stay longer in Thailand. 

This suggests that sectors and areas that offer lower incomes, such as agriculture and fisheries, especially in border provinces, will be hit hardest by returns in the short term, the report said.

The United Nations has proclaimed Dec 18 of every year as International Migrants Day to promote awareness of migrants' rights amongst nation states and concerned parties. 

According to the State Enterprise Workers' Relations Confederation of Thailand (SERC) and Migrant Workers Right Network (MWRN) statement, only 1,972,504 migrants are permitted to legally work. 

Out of those permitted to work, 698,777 migrants entered the country legally whilst 1,273,727 migrants entered the country irregularly but have since registered. Over two million more migrants entered Thailand irregularly and have not registered at all.

The NGOs have called on migrants to be treated equally to Thai workers without discrimination on any grounds, a principle enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 

An understanding by migrants of the right to association and collective bargaining under ILO conventions 87 and 98 should be ensured to foster migrant’s participation as members of trade unions, they said.

They also called for clear policies and guidelines for a long term migrant workers administration plan to be created, particularly regarding registration, nationality verification and increased efforts of the state and all its officials to work concertedly and connectedly to promote migrant wellbeing  

The migrant import (memorandum of understanding) process should be simplified to facilitate employers filing an application to employ migrant workers without relying on brokers, the SERC and MWRN said.

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Writer: Achara Ashayagachat
Position: Senior Reporter