Employment opportunity for Myanmar migrant workers has declined after the military coup in home country. However, political instability has forced them to enter Thailand legally or illegally through border crossings. They are experiencing violation of labour rights, exploitation on their wage and arrest for illegal migration.
This interview with U Htoo Chit, the executive director of the Foundation for Education Development and the advocate for Myanmar migrant workers over 20 years, is about challenges of these workers in Thailand, assistance of coup regime and possible benefits for Myanmar migrant workers after the new prime minister has taken office.
TLT: What are the ongoing hardships of Myanmar migrant workers in Thailand? How are you helping them?
U Htoo Chit: The number of migrant workers has significantly increased after 2021 military coup. They brought their family members with them. The emerging issues are labour rights violation cases, negligence of government in effective action on the complaints against human rights violations and the rising figure of undocumented workers.
TLT: What are the differences in providing assistance for Myanmar migrant workers between NLD government and the military regime?
U Htoo Chit: In my experience, both administrations lack active policy on migrant worker issue. It is my unbiased remark. Myanmar labour attaché have no systematic preparations, they cannot effectively help in migrant issue, compared to their counterparts of regional countries.
TLT: How does your organization help illegal migrant workers from Myanmar when they were arrested?
U Htoo Chit: We help in migrant worker issues in Myanmar. Some migrant workers fail to have access to their detainee rights in immigration jails before they were been repatriated. We developed a record in this issue last year. This is regular problems for migrant workers.
TLT: It was leant that Myanmar migrant workers in Thailand under MoU system are also facing various challenges. Why does it happen?
U Htoo Chit: Our migrant works cannot enjoy labour rights, benefits and compensations in Thailand. The migrant workers under MoU sytem experience corruption and exploitation of foreign employment agencies. Some employment agencies brought Myanmar workers although there is no employment offers in Thailand. As these workers did not secure jobs, and then they became illegal migrant workers. In such case, the government failed to take effective actions on this. Some employment agencies do not abide by rules and regulations of successive Myanmar governments. While conflict is occurring in our country, many young people try to go overseas, and they were tricked although they had to pay excess and unfair amount of brokerage for employment in Thailand.
When they arrived in Thailand, job brokers collect service charges despite no employment. Some migrant workers turned into illegal status. I am concerned about the long-term situation. The situations of migrant workers in the last two to three years has worsened than those in the past five to six years. Myanmar migrant workers under MoU should get systematic assistance.
TLT: Which measures are needed to help migrant workers who are losing their rights?
U Htoo Chit: The workers themselves need to bear responsibilities for themselves. Labour attachés in successive Myanmar government are more responsible to provide legal protections. For example, the actions of Cambodian labour attachés are very fast when they were asked for assistance. They immediately went to respective factories whenever any case of their migrant workers happened . They discuss with the employers, and contact to Thai officials, if any assistance was needed. However, Myanmar labour attachés do not take such immediate action. Frankly to say, even we had two governments, it is frankly to say that neither of them could help the migrant workers. Respective government is more responsible for helping Myanmar migrant workers because Thai government shows more consideration of legitimate governments. So, the governments need to work for migrant workers more carefully.
TLT: What can be expected from the change of Thai prime minister for both Myanmar politics and migrant workers?
U Htoo Chit: The Phue Thai party has formed their government. Every relevant organization based in Thailand are interested in its political situation. This party is notorious for corruption. Thaksin, the former leader of this party, was recently sentenced to 8 years. Legal charges against him included his approval for four billion baht in loan to Myanmar. This means that Thaksin’s party has the history of good relations with Myanmar military governments. They will consider only their personal interest. So, nothing can be expected from their new government. Phue Thai made an election promise during its campaign to raise the minimum wage to 600 baht for Thai labours within four years, and the basic salary for a graduated Thai would be increased to the minimum salary of 25,000 baht per month. If Thai government raised wage of Thai workers, Myanmar migrant workers can expect certain increase.
TLT: What is your additional remark on issues of migrant workers?
U Htoo Chit: I want to share my over 20 years of experience to Myanmar migrant workers that both migrant workers in Thailand and potential migrant workers need to learn labour rights and cultures of this country and Thai language to be abl to communicate with Thai people, employers and authorities.
I have advised successive Myanmar governments that Myanmar migrant workers are the resources of experiences which can be shared for development of our country. They can be praised as ‘Nonentity Heroes’. Successive Myanmar governments should adopt strategic policies and invest capitals for the welfares of migrant workers in education, health and labour rights. They will be useful in the future of Myanmar, and that their rights should be promoted systematically.