Migrant workers get a raw deal

Migrant workers get a raw deal

Societies around the world are increasingly becoming "aged societies", and Thailand itself will become a "super-aged" society by 2031 when 28% of the population will be over 60 years old.

These grey societies usually have to rely on more imported labourers.

In the case of Thailand, migrant workers have contributed to the economic development of the country itself, just as in many similar destination countries.

These young workers are sought after as they are willing to replace Thai labourers in "3D jobs" which stands for "dangerous", "dirty" and "[in] demand" and are well-known for being unpopular sectors in which Thais are reluctant to work.

Migrant workers contributed 4.3-6.6% of Thailand's GDP and account for over 10% of the workforce, according to the Thailand Migration Report 2019.

However, these workers still face social bias, much of which stems from public prejudice against them which disregards their contributions to the local economy.

For example, a recent survey on attitudes towards migrant workers among 1,034 individuals aged 18 to 65 by the International Labor Organization (ILO) revealed that over half of the Thai public, 53%, believe Thailand does not need low-skilled migrant workers, despite their contribution.

Almost half, 40%, said migrants drain the economy, and 38% said migrants have an overall negative effect on it.

The survey also suggested that 52% of the participants believed migrant workers should not be paid an equal wage as native workers despite equality of treatment being guaranteed under international human rights conventions and labour regulations.

In reality, migrant workers are at the mercy of their employers and lack the ability to demand their labour rights since they are afraid of losing their jobs. They suffer long working hours and frequently do not even receive the minimum wage of 315 baht per day or any overtime pay.

The ILO survey revealed that 72% of the participants believed migrants commit many crimes, while 77% believed that crime rates increase due to migration.

Yet crimes by Thai citizens against migrant workers have markedly increased.

In 2019, for example, three Myanmar migrant workers were shot by a mob of eight Thai teens at a vegetable shop in Mahar Chaing Market in Samut Sakhon district.

The attack broke out after a quarrel between a worker and a pork store owner's son in the marketplace.

Regretfully, Myanmar, ever since the coup in February 2021, now lacks a legitimate government and officials to look after the nation's legion of foreign workers whose sent-back money boosts its economy but whose welfare lacks official representation in Thailand.

Without representation here to maintain pressure on the government to look after them according to their rights under international law, it is not uncommon to hear of cases of abuse, assault and even rape and torture going unpunished in Thailand when the victim is not a native.

In November 2021, a Thai police officer raped a 21-year-old Myanmar woman at a police station.

The women had been detained for more than two years on charges relating to the possession of drugs.

The officer accused of the heinous crime was released on bail and suspended from work over his role in the sexual assault.

Such light penalties given to those accused of mistreating workers seems to be the norm and, if anything, may even be a worsening problem.

For example, in November last year, a Thai man raped a Myanmar woman he had employed, and burned her body, while barely even a month later, the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) released a Myanmar woman from 13 years of unpaid forced labour on soi 11 of the Pakamas housing estate in Bangkok's Suan Luang district.

In terms of penalties, it is also worth mentioning the sentence handed to the two Myanmar workers, Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Tun, who were convicted of raping and murdering two British tourists, Hannah Witheridge, 23, and David Miller 24, Koh Tao island several years ago.

The trial was widely reported on by media overseas, particularly the claim by the pair that their confessions were forced -- an accusation the court dismissed as groundless before handing them the death penalty, which a year later was commuted to life by royal pardon.

It's hard not to be cynical if one puts that sentence beside those handed to Thais for similar atrocities committed on migrants or foreigners from our poorer neighbours.

As the world becomes more connected, and labourers travel and settle in new countries, often becoming long-term residents, fairness by host nations' legal systems is crucial.

The Thai legal system must be regulated to ensure that prosecutions and verdicts are unbiased, particularly at a time when our future may depend on the hard work of workers from those countries.

Tual Sawn Khai is a PhD fellow in sociology and social policy at the School of Graduate Studies, Lingnan University, Hong Kong.

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