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Long-term policies sought for migrant workers

Mar 21. 2016
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By KWANCHAI RUNGFAPAISARN
THE NA

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TO cope with the liberalisation of the labour market in Asean, the Thai and Myanmar governments are looking for long-term policies on migrant workers.

Sein Htay, president of the Migrant Worker Rights Network (MWRN), said there were many problems regarding the violation of migrant rights in Thailand. They include illegal deductions from salaries and overtime by some employers. Some migrant workers are also not allowed to take sick leave or honour their cultural holidays.

“Migrant workers have to pay extra costs for work and migration documents because of extra charges by brokers arranging their trips to work in Thailand,” he said.

The MWRN on Sunday hosted a forum to promote understanding about the government’s new policy for migrant workers, all of whom will now need to apply for a non-Thai identity card (pink card) to be granted permission to remain in the Kingdom for another two years.

About 400,000 workers currently hold pink cards, which will expire on March 31 and will have to be renewed. Migrant workers who hold a visa will not be able to renew them once they expire, and will also need to apply for a pink card. Once approved, they will also have their stay extended by two years.

The forum in Samut Sakhon was attended by around 600 migrant workers from Myanmar.

Sein Htay said the Thai and Myanmar governments had been working together for five years to solve the problem of illegal migrant workers from Myanmar in Thailand.

Arak Prommanee, director-general of the Thai Labour Ministry’s Department of Employment, said Thailand was still facing a shortage of unskilled labour and the government’s policy was to allow migrant workers already here to stay in their jobs.

“We will allow existing migrant workers whose non-Thai identity cards, or pink cards, have expired to renew their cards and continue their work in Thailand for another two years,” he said.

He added that there were currently about 3 million migrants working in Thailand.

About five years ago, the Thai and Myanmar governments signed a memorandum of understanding allowing Myanmar nationals to come and work in Thailand, which was experiencing a major shortage of unskilled labourers. Arak said that for new migrant workers, the Thai government would give priority to those who come in under this MoU.

Andy Hall, international-affairs adviser for the MWRN and the State Enterprises Workers’ Relations Confederation (SERC), who has been in Thailand for 15 years, said there were between 3 million and 4 million migrant workers in Thailand, representing 15 per cent of the total labour market. About 80 per cent are from Myanmar, 15 per cent from Cambodia, and the rest from Laos and Vietnam.

He said the government announced in Mahachai on Sunday its new migration policy that limits migrant manual labourers’ freedom of movement from or outside of the province where they are employed, unless an employer or a government official approves their travel plans.

Under this policy, migrant workers will be limited to just seven days’ travel outside their province of registration even if travel permission is granted. Based on past practice, the process of gaining such permission will likely be lengthy and will often involve bribery of brokers and law-enforcement officials.

Migrant workers will also not legally be allowed to return to their country of origin with their new pink identity cards as freedom of movement will be restricted. Workers can likely no longer be able to return to their country of origin by air. In addition, migrant workers’ permission to change employers will be severely restricted to only a few situations under the new policy.

“The Thai government’s new migrant-worker policy seems a major step backwards for migrant workers’ personal-identity management. It is very disappointing,” Hall said.

Kuvera, a Myanmar monk who has been in Thailand for eight years, said many workers from his country were poorly educated, and were easily confused by this country’s regulation, of even Myanmar’s own rules.

“So what they have learned is from previous workers who have knowledge and experience on how to stay in a foreign country and how to [deal] with other people,” said Kuvera, who is head of the Vamsanurakkhita Association of Myanmar.

However, not all of these “ideal leaders” gave newcomers the correct advice.

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