Help urged for migrant workers in limbo

Help urged for migrant workers in limbo

Police and military officers question some of the 78 ethnic-Karen people who were caught after crossing from a neighbouring country and charged with illegal entry in Thong Pha Phum district of Kanchanaburi on July 19.
Police and military officers question some of the 78 ethnic-Karen people who were caught after crossing from a neighbouring country and charged with illegal entry in Thong Pha Phum district of Kanchanaburi on July 19.

Human rights groups are calling for the government to help around 700,000 migrant workers, left in limbo by the coronavirus outbreak, renew their work permits and seal other legal loopholes.

In June, the Department of Employment said the country normally has more than 2.4 million registered migrant workers, most of whom come from Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Suthasinee Kaewleklai, a coordinator at the Migrant Workers Rights Network (MWRN), said migrants were laid off or forced to take unpaid furlough due to the coronavirus outbreak, but are now in demand as the government gears up to allow workers into the country to reboot the tepid economy.

"However, former employers didn't give them termination letters. By law, they are required to do so within 15 days, otherwise migrant workers won't be able to apply for new jobs," she said at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand (FCCT) on Friday.

The Migrant Working Group (MWG) and its partners held a forum there to discuss the plight of migrant workers and the post-lockdown challenges they face.

Ms Suthasinee said migrant workers have not received redundancy pay from their employers who are now filing an appeal against orders from labour inspectors. Her agency found that only three out of over 70 companies compensated unemployed migrant workers and only one paid those on furlough 75% of their salaries due to the pandemic.

On behalf of migrant worker rights groups, Ms Suthasinee proposed the government waive enforcement of Section 14 of the Foreigners' Working Management Emergency Decree to allow those whose work permits expired due to unemployment between March and July, and whose former employers failed to notify the authority, to extend the document and seek new employment without incurring additional processing fees.


Meanwhile, Nattaya Petchrat, a coordinator at the Stella Maris Seafarers Centre Songkhla, drew attention to those in the fishery sector because the law doesn't require fishing operators to register them under the social security system.

"However, the outbreak shows that workers can seek welfare benefits from the social security scheme in case of unfair treatment. The government should urge fishing operators to register their migrant workers under this scheme instead of the health insurance system," she said.

When asked whether a shortage of migrant workers will increase the risk of forced labour, Ms Nattaya said state authorities can forestall this by stepping up efforts to monitor fishing activities.

"The glaring problem is how we see local and migrant workers as those belonging to another class. Don't their years-long skills have any worth? Why do we assess them according to minimum wages rather than their performance? In fact, the disregard for their socio-economic background is a form of forced labour," she said.


Suwannee Dolah, an officer at the Raks Thai Foundation Programme, said her study found female migrant workers are more vulnerable to job losses than their male counterparts because employers perceive them to be inferior in terms of productivity.

"For example, hundreds of female migrant workers in Pattani under the MoU were put on furlough for four months because employers said there were not enough jobs during the outbreak," she said.

"In addition, the country does not allow international labour unions, giving up the chance for gender-sensitive organisations to stand up for women's rights," she added.

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