By Joseph Allchin
The head of a Thai union umbrella group has accused Bangkok of violating international law on the rights of millions of migrant workers who are regularly denied protection in the workplace.
Sawit Keawan, who heads the State Enterprise Workers Relations Confederation (SERC), today petitioned the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in Geneva over the issue, claiming that Thailand “systematically [violates] international law by failing to protect rights of migrant workers from Myanmar [Burma]”.
One such discriminatory practice alleged by SERC, which is made up of 43 major Thai trade unions, is the refusal of the Thai state to allow migrant to access the Workmen’s Compensation Fund, which is the usual method of compensating those injured in the workplace.
Sawit said in a statement that the Thai government was bound by an ILO convention targeting accident compensation. He added however that the labour ministry’s plan “to set up a private insurance scheme to compensate ‘migrant’ work accident victims is vague and ill thought out.
“Importantly, policies that claim greater protection for migrant’s basic labour rights but which differentiate migrants from Thai workers remains blatant discrimination.”
The Abhisit government plans to instigate the insurance plan, which will see employers of migrant workers required to purchase medical insurance from private health insurance companies.
Andy Hall, director of Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF) and who spoke on behalf of SERC, told DVB from Geneva that the record of employers taking responsibility for migrant workers is, at best, poor in Thailand. This was demonstrated in the recent case of Charlie Deeyu a Burmese migrant worker who was submitted to hospital with serious injuries sustained in the workplace, but whose employer quickly vanished without paying compensation.
Moreover the quality of care from private sources, Hall stated, was poorer because of the required profit margins for the companies responsible for providing the care.
Today’s statement follows complaints from Human Rights Watch (HRW) and HRDF at the 17th session of the UN Human Rights Commission, also in Geneva, on 6 June.
The two NGO’s filed a statement to the outgoing UN head for migrant rights, Jorge Bustamente, alleging that up to three million migrant workers in Thailand are subject to abuse on a regular basis.
“In every region we visited, from the remote provinces on Thailand’s borders to major industrial zones near Bangkok, abuses of migrants were systematic and those filing grievances faced immediate, violent retaliation from a nexus of local police, officials and employers,” the statement said.
HRW further complained that the Thai government had failed to implement any of the suggestions that were made in an earlier report, ‘From the Tiger to the Crocodile: Abuse of Migrant Workers in Thailand’, released in February last year.
Despite the very specific nature of HRW’s complaint, the Bangkok Post reported that one Geneva-based Thai diplomat had warned that “the NGOs should avoid making such unsubstantiated and sweeping statement that does not help addressing the situation.”
The diplomat further added: “We have to state our strong objection to the statement regarding migrant workers in Thailand which alleged deliberate violent attacks and killing by the Thai government,”
Thailand’s labour force is currently made up of approximately five percent migrant workers who contribute some seven percent of the country GDP, with the majority of workers estimated to be from Burma.
As a result, Thailand’s economy is heavily reliant upon migrant labour which enables the country to maintain competitively cheap prices.
The Thai government has over the last year been making attempts to register workers under a nationality verification scheme. The scheme however was criticised due to its requirement that workers also register in their country of origin, which for many Burmese would then lead to extortion from their local government. It was also deemed to be expensive and difficult for many poor, uneducated workers to complete.