Category Archives: Migration Policy in Thailand
A new report from the UN makes a strong case for respecting the rights of migrant domestic workers
IN THAILAND as in other countries of the region, employing domestic workers has long been a cultural and social practice as much as an economic one. In the past, such jobs were routinely filled by girls from the provinces and while often overworked and grossly underpaid, they were usually absorbed into the family, which provided them with some kind of security away from their own loved ones.
Today, domestic work has all but been taken over by migrants from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia, most of them in the country illegally. They too in many cases become part of the family but unlike their Thai peers have no security and few, if any rights.
Their plight is addressed in a research study recently launched by the United Nations Women Regional Office for Asia and Pacific in Bangkok. The publication, entitled “Worker, Helper, Auntie, Maid?”: Working conditions and attitudes experienced by migrant domestic workers in Thailand and Malaysia” makes the point that while there is nothing wrong with these workers becoming “fictive kin” – the term used to describe non-familial relationships – they should also be protected by an employment contract that recognises their human and labour rights.
The report makes for interesting and eye-opening reading. On the statistical side, it notes that approximately 73.4 per cent of all migrant domestic workers are women. The Asia and Pacific region is home to the largest percentage of domestic workers, making up more than 40 per cent of the global total. The region also hosts the largest share of women migrant domestic workers, at 24 per cent of the global total.
In Thailand, of the 250,000 migrant domestic workers from Laos, Myanmar Cambodia and Vietnam, many are unregistered and without a work permit. These housekeepers, nannies and caregivers are often caught between immigration law and employment law and excluded from labour rights and protections. As a consequence they are vulnerable to exploitative and unfair conditions.
In Thailand, employment conditions of domestic workers are mainly governed through labour laws. In Malaysia, however, immigration law is the principle instrument of governance, with labour law as a secondary focus.
Few Thai employers feel that a written contract is an appropriate right for a domestic worker, preferring to integrate them as part of the family – indeed, only seven percent of migrant domestic workers surveyed here had a written contract.
By contrast in Malaysia, even respondents who felt that domestic workers should be treated as part of the family were supportive of written contracts, which can be put down to the fact that contracts are associated with immigration requirements and explicitly tie workers to employers.
For the workers themselves, close relationships with their employees are governed by emotion and reciprocity rather than a contract. And, of course, these emotional aspects have a considerable impact on their experiences.
Perhaps that explains in part why workers surveyed for the study expressed a lack of enthusiasm for contracts, associating them with a lack of freedom to leave their job, thus affecting their ability to change employers. A less surprising finding was that up to 90 per cent of migrant domestic workers in both countries are paid below the minimum wage.
“People treat you badly when they think that you have no choice,” says one Myanmar domestic worker interviewed for the report. Another, also from Myanmar, says, “They say if they give high salary, it won’t be a family any more”. A domestic worker from the Philippines has similar grievances; “I won’t complain. If I complain they won’t let me go out. When I go out at least I can find another employer.”
William Gois, representative of the Migrant Forum in Asia, says that change must begin from the workers themselves. “While history tells us that they struggle even if they work together to claim their rights, the ‘informed’ sector of society, such as feminist groups in Thailand for example, can bring their cases into the light.
“The close family environment is often created because the employer wants to hide something. He or she is worried that the migrant domestic workers will give away the family’s secrets or that they will run away with a boyfriend and leave the family in the lurch. This has to stop. Employers must create more space for the domestic workers, ensure they have days off and allow them to have a phone,” Gois continues.
“We need to deconstruct this ‘being part of the family’ mentality. It is symptomatic of the patriarchal system that can be traced back to the colonial period. We have to stop this attitude of ‘benevolent employer caring for someone with lower status’. It’s all very well to say, ‘well, she’s part of the family’ but you would never see a family member with this kind of job description. The employer is bringing an outsider into the family home so yes, it is important to build trust and confidence but in return the work space and the dignity of work that the domestic worker does must also be recognised.”
The findings and recommendations of the UN Women’s study are backed up by a 2011 Master Degree’s Thesis prepared by Ekachai Eutanpisit for the Faculty of Economics, Chulalongkorn University. Titled “Maids, Migrant Domestic Workers in Thai Households and State Protection”, it points out that the exploitation of maids raises questions about the state’s effectiveness in embracing laws and the governmental mechanism in protecting the rights of this group of workers. The expansion of the role of working women and the greater economic value that this implies has given birth to a need for low-paid female migrants to take over the housekeeping duties. While many are treated well, their poor working and living conditions are often ignored by employers and government agencies, the international labour organisation and state mechanisms ineffectively regulate the power of employers in private homes.
Ruchika Bahl, regional programme manager – migration, says blame should also be placed on the media for painting such a negative image of migrant workers.
One of the key findings in the publication to come out of the press analysis was the strikingly strong association made between “immigration” and “illegality” in such English-language newspapers as Malaysia’s New Straits Times and Thailand’s The Nation.
The negative images and discourses disseminated in the media contribute to creating a hostile environment workers, the report states, adding that in both Thailand and Malaysia, employers surveyed associated migrants with crime and were concerned about their potential as domestic workers.
Some of these embedded stereotypes and damaging images need to be challenged. One potential avenue for such change could be through the inclusion of the voices of migrant workers themselves rather than relying solely on police and other officials.
Ultimately, the publication proposes that laws and policies regulating migrant domestic workers’ employment experiences be brought in line with relevant international standards, including ILO Convention No 189. In the Asean bloc, the only country to have ratified it is the Philippines. In addition, employers and the public need to be educated more broadly about the rights and contributions of migrant domestic workers, emphasising that treating someone as “part of the family” should include respecting their human and labour rights.
By: Kupluthai Pungkanon, The Nation
Published on: 12 Janurary, 2017
Thailand, Asean and the Mekong Subregion still do not have decent rights-based regulations and safety nets in place to ensure justice for migrants, say non-government organisations.
The question of “decent work” resonates among migrant workers on a global level and in Thailand, said Brahm Press, director of the Migrants Assistance Program (MAP) Foundation based in Chiang Mai.
“Many countries restrict the type of work migrants can do, regardless of whether or not they have skills,” he said on the sidelines of a conference in Dhaka Bangladesh last week. “In many of the ‘unskilled’ jobs migrants do, they are considered disposable rather than as workers who can increase productivity through skills development.”
Migrant workers, he said, systematically received less than a living wage, forcing them to work excessive hours; even then, they may not even receive the minimum wage.
In Thailand and many other countries in Asia, migrants are stuck under an inflexible policy that requires them to remain with a single employer in a single type of job in one location in order to remain with a single employer in a single type of job in one location in order to remain documented.
In reality, employers use their workers for multiple jobs, often in different locations. And when migrants feel cheated or abused, it is easier to just run away and become undocumented than it is to try and formally change employers, file charges and remain documented, noted Mr Press.
“There are those migrants who will get an agent to register as their employer in order to have flexibility in their job options. On the other hand, migrant workers have been made more temporary as part of a ‘flexible workforce’ where employers have less and less direct responsibility for their workers through subcontracting,” he said.
When there are economic shocks, migrants are the first to lose their jobs, and they rarely receive unemployment benefits, said Mr Press.
For migrants in Thailand, he said, their home countries do not yet have social protections to accommodate unemployed, incapacitated or retired migrants who return home, and their economies are not able to accommodate them either.
“Migrants are left in a precarious and uncertain position — in destination countries and back home.”
Omsin Boonlert, of the Mekong Migration Network (MMN) advocacy team, added that migrants are often treated as “temporary” in jobs that entail lengthy working hours, without knowing how temporary their status could be.
The MMN has submitted an eight-page statement at the Dhaka conference to highlight the issue of private recruitment agencies.
These agencies or brokers are mostly exploitative given the power imbalance in the relationship between workers and agencies, said Ms Omsin.
Abuses by agencies included overcharging (for passports), or charging for services not provided, offering usurious loans, and debt bondage, she said.
They usually failed to fulfill responsibilities to provide appropriate training and medical checks, falsified documents on underage workers, or substituted contracts for a destination with unagreed terms, the MMN report said.
The largest movement of migrant workers within the Greater Mekong Subregion is to Thailand — from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia.
“Interstate cooperation is important to improve the welfare of migrant workers. This applies not only to countries of origin and countries of destination but given that many different actors take part in international labour migration which is multi jurisdictional, strong cooperation between governments, employers, agencies and civil society should help reduce inconsistency of policy regulations,” said the MMN statement.
The UN special rapporteur on Human Rights of Migrants has called for collaborative work on an ethical recruitment system. The International labour Organization has also suggested that Asean members could in the future establish a regional common code of conduct for recruitment agencies.
In this regard, better data collection and sharing on recruitment practices and exploitative agencies would help minimise the problems, the MMN said.
“If necessary, governments should also work toward a policy of zero recruitment fees and reduce the role of local brokers in the recruitment process. National governments must strongly pursue regulations and enforcement to eliminate the practice of contract substitution,” said the statement.
“All in all, strictly enact and implement the laws in line with international standards,” said Ms Omsin.
As of July 2016, 132,442 Cambodians in Thailand had migrated through the formal system under a bilateral agreement, but the majority still came through informal channels.
The majority of Lao migrant workers come to Thailand by informal means on their own, with a minority — 20% of men and 8% of women — using an unlicensed broker to travel to the border. Just 25% of all workers use a broker in Thailand to travel from the border to a job site. As of 2013, there were 12 licensed recruitment agencies in Laos.
The Myanmar Overseas Employment Agencies Federation this year adopted a voluntary code of conduct that participating agencies will adhere to. In August this year, 129 Myanmar-registered agencies signed an agreement with the government to abide by national legislation and be subject to compliance monitoring.
In 2013, there were more than 180 recruitment agencies licensed to send workers to Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia and other countries. An ILO survey found that many Vietnamese workers were unhappy with their migration experience but didn’t complain. Of those who did, only 30% received a response.
Source: Mekong Migration Network Policy Brief
By: Achara Ashayagachat, Bangkok Post
Published on: 12 December 2016
In a move activists fear could endanger thousands of Cambodian children, Thailand plans to reduce the number of children of illegal migrants living in the country to zero by 2020, according to a newspaper report.
Thailand is the top destination for Cambodians seeking work abroad, with the Thai Ministry of Labor tallying 681,571 laborers in November 2014, most of whom lack full documentation.
Waranont Pitiwan, deputy permanent secretary at the Labor Ministry, told The Bangkok Post that the government was planning several measures to reduce the more than 118,000 children who came with their parents from Cambodia, Laos and Burma to work in the informal Thai labor market.
The measures include “ending the registration of illegal migrant workers” in favor of one-to-one agreements with individual countries, forcing migrants home at the end of their contracts, encouraging birth control among migrants and curbing illegal migration itself, the newspaper reported.
The Labor Ministry and Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh did not respond to requests for comment.
Cambodian migrant activists said the new rules would further endanger an already vulnerable population.
“So far, children of migrants do not have access to school,” said Moeun Tola, head of the labor rights group Central. “It’s very dangerous for them, because children are kept in the house or dorms while their parents are going to work.”
“They are still human beings,” he added. “Children should be supported.”
CNRP lawmaker Mu Sochua, who heads the party’s migrant outreach efforts, said that there already are “tremendous social implications for these families.”
“If their parents are undocumented, they live in fear. No school, no social services,” she said, calling for Thailand to sign and enforce a U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights convention protecting migrant workers, and for the Cambodian government to ensure their protection.
“The worse scenario is when the children must flee or are deported,” she said.
When hundreds of thousands of Cambodians fled Thailand in 2014 due to fears of violence there, children’s NGO World Vision said that many children became separated from their families in the chaos.
“Any child who is living away from their home community or family becomes more vulnerable…[to] all kind of abuse and violence, as well as the long term effects created by shifts in their education, changes to their social safety nets, and legal insecurity,” wrote Steve Cook, the organization’s advocacy manager.
Mr. Tola, of Central, said the Thai government’s moves were unlikely to deter workers who could not rely on relatives at home to care for their children.
“The migrant workers understand clearly that it is not a good idea,” he said. “It’s not safe for the children at all, but they have no choice.”
By: Ben Paviour, The Cambodian Daily
Published on: 18 November 2016
The Department of Employment’s (DOE) Director General has disclosed that three nationalities of foreign workers can change their employer under five conditions, excluding those working in fisheries and seafood processing.
DOE Director General Singhadet Chooamnat said that foreign workers from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar can seek a new employer before their contract expires under five conditions: 1) their previous employer has terminated the employment contract or has died 2) the employer faces bankruptcy 3) the employer has physically abused or assaulted the employee 4) the employer does not comply with the contract or labor protection laws 5) the employee works in the environment or working conditions that might harmful to their physical health, mental health or well-being.
This stipulation will not apply to foreign workers in fisheries and seafood processing industries under the renewal of their work permit during 1 November – 30 December 2016.
Employees who were fired due to malpractice or criminal offenses will have their work permit revoked and will be deported to their country of origin.
Employees who wish to change their employer or the new employers who wish to hire the worker will have to submit documents to confirm employment termination, business closure or prosecution with the former employer and pay a fee of 1,000 baht. For more information, please call the DOE’s Hotline 1694.
By: National News Bureau of Thailand
Published on: 11 November 2016
The former secretary-general of the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Center (SBPAC) and special representative of the government is preparing to propose that the southernmost provinces be promoted a special employment zone in order to allow foreign workers to be part of the region’s workforce.
Panu Uthairat, special representative of the government called a meeting with the SBPAC and labor-related agencies to discuss ways to ease labor shortages which are affecting the region’s economy. The former SBPAC secretary-general on November 2nd met with local officials, Islamic spiritual leaders and business operators to share their views and suggestions for the economic direction of the three southern border provinces.
Now that Narathiwat is one of the Special Economic Zones; relevant sectors are of the opinion that the Deep South should also be a special employment zone in which restrictions and requirements for labor acquisition differ from other areas to pave the way for foreign worker imports. Relevant bodies have been instructed to work out new requirements for foreign workman recruitment that suit individual industries.
By: National News Bureau of Thailand
Published on: 10 November 2016