Category Archives: Other Migration Issues in Mekong
Despite the fact that the supply of migrant workers exceeds the demand of the job market, skilled workers are still hard to find, said the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security on Thursday.
Yang Zhiming, deputy Minister of Human Resources and Social Security, told a State Council press conference that the growth rate of the number of migrant workers has slowed down.
The number of migrant workers in China was 269 million nationwide in 2013, up 2.4 percent on 2012. Migrant workers accounted for 81.8 percent of construction workers, 73.6 percent of the workers in the manufacturing industry, and 67.4 percent of workers in the service industry. The percentage of migrant workers in high-tech enterprises and the service industry has seen an increase in 2013, according to Yang.
Monthly income on average has also seen a rise from 2,290 yuan ($376.47) in 2012 to 2,609 yuan in 2013. Those working in East China are paid 10 percent more than those in central and western regions, said the Ministry.
“It is difficult to hire general workers, which reflects the limited supply of migrant workers. Despite China upgrading and restructuring its industrial base, there are difficulties in recruiting enough skilled technicians to work in these fields,” Yang said. Inadequate job-related skills hinder job-hunting and career development for migrant workers, he said.
In response, more government-sponsored training in practical skills will be offered to younger migrant workers. About 10 million workers will benefit from the training every year.
Businesses and industries with a larger percentage of migrants in their workforce will be encouraged to hire more staff with preferential policies on taxes and subsidies.
There will also be support, such as guarantee loans of 50,000 to 100,000 yuan, to each migrant worker who launches start-up businesses back in their hometowns. The number has exceeded two million, most of whom began their entrepreneurship in family farms, according to Yang.
“The new generation, born in the 80s and 90s, now account for more than 70 percent of all migrant workers. In comparison with their forebears, they show a stronger desire to integrate into urban life, but there are major obstacles, such as health insurance coverage and equal education for their children,” Yang said.
Wang Qian, a senior official with the National Health and Family Planning Commission, said at the conference that the medical record network would cover more than 50 percent of China’s provincial-level regions in order to ease access to medical services at different regions for the floating population.
The nation will also expect another 18 provinces and municipalities to allow children of migrant workers to sit the national college entrance examinations in 2014 at places where they do not hold household registrations. More than 4,400 students successfully sat the exam in 12 provinces and municipalities without household registration in 2013, said Du Kewei, a senior official from the Ministry of Education.
By Jiang Jie, Global Times
Published on 21 February 2014
PHNOM PENH, Jan 24 2014 (IPS) – Many Cambodian women arrive in South Korea or China for marriage, only to find themselves being chosen as mistresses, say labour rights activists. While young Cambodian men, who travel to Thailand to work on fishing boats, often fall prey to drug abuse.
Loss of land, debt, poor pay and high prices of petrol and electricity are pushing youths from poverty-stricken Cambodia to foreign lands – sometimes with disastrous consequences.
Miserable working conditions in the garment sector have only worsened the labour trafficking scenario.
Tola Moeun, head of the Community Legal Education Centre (CLEC), said rural farmers comprise 80 percent of Cambodia’s population, but they are increasingly in debt due to high-interest loans. As a result, youth leave home in search of work.
He also cited the example of Cambodia’s garment industry, saying the prospect of being a garment worker is so terrible that often women will do anything to escape this fate.
“Women garment workers often choose to go to South Korea to escape the situation,” Tola told IPS.
CLEC has received several calls from families whose daughters were experiencing troubled “marriages” to Chinese and South Korean men that turned out to be sham marriages.
Tola said families accept money from marriage brokers without understanding the situation. The truth emerges when the women arrive in South Korea, only to be lined up in a room for the “husband” to choose from.
“I went to South Korea in 2011. It was explained to me that South Korean wives are not worried about sex workers because the husband takes a mistress. So he chooses a Cambodian girl to ‘marry’,” he said.
“In China, there is a shortage of women in the countryside. The man wants a wife to work for him without pay, so she becomes not only a labour slave but also a sex slave,” Tola said.
He concedes, however, that all international marriages are not shams.
A 24-year-old woman in Phnom Penh told IPS she knew of many successful relationships through marriage brokers. But she contacted IPS when a 30-year-old woman was being aggressively pursued by a marriage broker after she changed her mind about an offer. The broker backed off when CLEC was mentioned.
“A lot of Cambodian girls marry South Korean men. These are real relationships. Really poor people do this. Sometimes the girls come back and are able to build a house for the family and improve their lives.”
Young Cambodian men travel to Thailand to work in the construction sector, on fishing boats or in fish processing factories. This takes place either formally, using a broker for visas, or illegally.
“In case of illegal offers, the recruiter will call and say, ‘Do you want a job?’ The person will then cross the border at night, not using checkpoints, hiding in the back of a truck, lying head to toe with other people and covered with supplies that are being transported,” said Tola.
Brahm Press of the Raks Thai Foundation, an organisation that assists migrant workers, said most problems occur due to work contracts at the Cambodian end.
“As of July 2013, around 8,000 Cambodians were registered in Bangkok – 5,000 men and the rest women – and they were probably all in construction. I have heard that after deductions for recruitment agencies and housing, they come away with less than the 300 baht [10 dollars] a day minimum wage,” Press told IPS.
He said problems usually occur due to misunderstandings about work arrangements and fees or when passports are withheld to ensure that workers pay their recruitment debt.
Recently 13 young Cambodians – 11 men and two women aged between 15 and 23 – entered Thailand with the help of brokers to whom they paid 500 dollars each, said Si Ngoun, the father of one of the youths.
“They were promised a good job with a good salary of 300 baht per day.”
For two months they worked at a rubber band factory, a metal smith factory and, lastly, in the construction sector, which is where their troubles began.
“We were paid very little, about 120 baht [four dollars] per day. We didn’t want to work any more because we were too hungry,” 20-year-old Si Pesith, one of the workers, told IPS.
Tola said the workers asked for food and protested but the employer had them jailed as illegal workers. Usually detention lasts six to nine months, but Cambodian Ambassador You Ay intervened and they were sent home within a week.
IPS spoke with Pesith after he was repatriated. “If we compare work in Thailand with that in Cambodia, it is not much different,” he said.
Thai fishing boats have been flagged by the U.S. State Department Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report as potential labour trafficking scams for Cambodian migrants.
Press said conditions on fishing boats are notoriously difficult to monitor. Work there has been linked to drug use as labourers try to get through work shifts that can last up to 20 hours.
“When migrants, first Burmese and then Cambodians, were prominently replacing Thais on the boats, amphetamines were becoming the rage,” he said.
“First there was Ya-Ma (horse drug), which was milder than the current Ya-Ba, but no less addictive. During the last decade there were anecdotal reports, first of migrants on fishing boats voluntarily taking Ya-Ma, then stories of captains putting Ya-Ba in the drinking water.” Press, however, said such stories had become less frequent.
Eliot Albers, executive director of the International Network of People who Use Drugs (INPUD), said criminalisation of drug use makes it harder to assist users, especially migrants.
“Poverty and labour abuse worsen people’s relationship with drugs. They suffer from labour abuse and drugs help them get through the day,” Albers told IPS.
Migrant workers lack union representation, making them especially vulnerable to abuse. If they are formal workers, the process of migration is expensive (up to 700 dollars each), requiring a recruiter and debt. If they are informal, it is cheaper. But they risk detention and deportation by Thai police if they complain about the working conditions.
Despite these problems, repatriated workers often leave Cambodia again.
By Michelle Tolson, Inter Press Service
Published on 24 January 2o14
Thailand is the third largest exporter of seafood in the world, supplying supermarkets in Europe and America, but it’s accused of crewing fishing boats with Burmese and Cambodian men who’ve been sold and forced to work as slaves.
Military music is pumping out into the tropical sunshine. In front of us are some 100 police officers standing in rows, and two heavily armed SWAT teams standing at attention. General Chatchawal Suksomjit, deputy chief of police, is walking down the lines, shaking hands, nodding and saluting.
With his dark glasses, slicked-back hair and shiny grey uniform he oozes importance.
He ushers us on to some waiting police boats and out into the waters of the Malacca Straits, along the border with Malaysia.
The general is head of a new committee set up to deal with the trafficking of men into the fishing business – an industry he describes as “dirty, dangerous and difficult”.
Human rights groups claim the Thai fishing fleet is much worse than this. Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch, who wrote a report on it for the International Organization for Migration says the use of forced labour is “systematic” and “pervasive”.
“The biggest problem we’ve seen is that if people can’t work, people aren’t useful on board, they can be killed and thrown overboard,” he says. “It doesn’t happen on every boat but it does happen enough to raise serious questions about the lawlessness in this industry.”
There is also a recruitment crisis. By the Ministry of Labour’s count, fishing boats in Thailand are short of 50,000 men. One captain at the port of Chonburi says they are desperate.
“Because Thai fishing is difficult, some people we have to force on to the boat,” he says.
Many boat owners and captains rely on brokers to recruit their workers, but the brokers are often unscrupulous, tricking young men from neighbouring countries into a job from which there is no escape.
As the police boats charge out towards the border with Malaysia, we approach four battered fishing boats. The SWAT teams surge on to the deck of the first boat, but meet no resistance.
“The focus of the mission today is to find trafficked and forced labour,” announces the general in Thai, before ordering the mainly Burmese crew down on to the deck. The crew have holes in their shirts or no shirts at all. Most are barefoot. We slide around on the nets, scales and fish guts on the deck.
When I talk in Burmese they speak quietly, glancing nervously at the captain and the crew master.
One group say they didn’t know they were coming on to a boat when they left Rakhine State in the west of Burma, or Myanmar as it is also known. They owe a broker $750 (£450) for bringing them here. One man glances out from under a mop of salt-soaked hair. “It’s been seven months,” he says. He still hasn’t been paid.
With my basic Burmese and the crew’s reluctance to talk, it’s hard to assess the situation but brokers, deception and debt often go hand-in-hand with forced labour.
Typically an illegal worker from Cambodia or Burma meets a broker and is offered a factory job. He accepts and finds himself passed from one broker to another, taken to a port and put on a fishing boat. The victim is then told he owes a lot of money.
It’s a well-sprung trap. If he escapes, then as an undocumented migrant the police will arrest and deport him. One Cambodian man I spoke to was trapped for three years on a boat without any wages, while he “paid off his debt”. He was never told how much he owed.
The general and his team cannot talk directly to the Burmese-speaking crew because they haven’t brought a translator so determining whether the men are trafficked is not possible. After 20 minutes the general ushers us off the boat.
“Wouldn’t it make your job easier to have a translator?” I ask. He replies that usually they rely on someone on board who can speak Burmese, such as the crew master. However, it’s often the crew master who is accused of the worst cases of abuse and violence.
“How do you know there was no forced labour or trafficking here?” I ask.
“From what we saw, there was no lock-up or detention room,” he says. “We saw no signs of harm on their bodies or in their facial expressions. By looking into their faces and their eyes they didn’t look like they had been forced to work.”
It didn’t seem like a foolproof system.
When the authorities do rescue trafficked men they often end up in a government-run detention centre on the outskirts of Bangkok.
Ken is one of these men. He explains that he was promised a good job in a factory but was forced on to a tiny boat in the open sea where he fished 20 hours a day, seven days a week. When he talks, his rough fingers run over the word L.O.V.E, which is clumsily tattooed across his knuckles. The broker said Ken owed a lot of money for being found a job and taken to the port. Months passed but Ken, like so many others, was never paid.
“People said, anyone who tried to escape had their legs broken, their hands broken or were even killed,” he says.
Desperate to escape, Ken jumped ship and swam for six hours in the open sea, until he was picked up by a yacht and dropped off in the resort of Pattaya. Like many trafficked men, he felt ashamed to return home empty-handed so when the police found him and deported him, he crossed the border illegally again to find work in Thailand.
This time he was told there was a job for him in a pineapple canning factory, and he agreed. But there was no factory, just another boat and another insurmountable debt. Fortunately for him, other crew-members managed to smuggle a phone on board to call for help and he was rescued as part of a special operation by Thailand’s Department of Special Investigations.
Puntrik Smiti, the Deputy Director General at the Ministry of Labour, admits that men like Ken are vulnerable. “There are some good fishing operators who are trying to improve the treatment of workers,” she says. “The problem is there are small operators who are unregistered and don’t want to come into the system.”
Only one in six boats is registered, she says, and most of the workers are illegal. She also points out that existing labour laws are inadequate. In fact Thailand’s Labour Protection Act exempts workers employed in the fishing industry, while other ministerial regulations exclude boats with a crew of less than 20, or those that travel outside Thai waters for more than a year.
Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch says it is on these long-haul boats that the worst abuses take place.
“If you’re talking about a fish caught on a Thai boat that has gone overseas, that has gone to Malaysian waters, Indonesian waters or further afield, you’re definitely talking about a fish tainted with forced labour,” he says.
“If you’re talking about a fish caught in Thai waters, the chances might be less. But there are much fewer fish caught that way. And now the major exporting is coming from the overseas catch.”
The effect of local over-fishing is forcing Thai boats to go as far afield as Yemen to maintain an export business worth $7bn annually. Mother ships refuel boats far from shore and transfer crews, ice and fish at sea.
Trapped at sea, workers cannot escape or complain about their conditions. The system also muddies the supply chain because fish are mixed at sea, and often again at the ports and processing plants, before being sold to larger companies for export. Max Tunon of the International Labour Organisation, who published a report on the industry in September, says it is “close to impossible” to disentangle Thailand’s fish supply chains.
Consumer pressure may one day force the industry to make these supply chains more transparent. Mackerel, sardines and other Thai fish are bought by some Western supermarkets and restaurants, while household brands such as John West and Chicken of the Sea are both subsidiaries of the largest exporter of Thai seafood, the Thai Union Group.
For its part, the Thai Union Group says it only sources fish from boats that are properly registered, with crews that have proper working documents. A representative says the company works with its partners to “take meaningful steps to promote human rights” in all its business operations. Mackerel and sardines accounted for only 6% of its revenue in 2012. Tuna is caught by a different fleet of boats.
A few days later in Burma, we sit on the floor of a bamboo shack in Bago, 100km (60 miles) north of Rangoon. This is Ken’s home. Although idyllic, the poverty is palpable.
Ken’s parents haven’t heard anything from their son, who is now 32, for four years.
His father is thin, with a gaunt face and red teeth from chewing betel nut. His mother is plumper and has a comb holding up her grey hair.
I show them a video of Ken. “That’s him! That’s my son,” his mother cries in recognition.
She raises her hands to her face and weeps, while her husband places his hand close to hers.
“We didn’t know anything,” she says. “We heard nothing.”
“I am so happy, so happy,” Ken’s father says, unable to tear his red-rimmed eyes from the screen.
It’s hard to know just how many more families like Ken’s are waiting for sons and husbands trapped at sea. With some vessels spending months or even years away, without being checked, the system encourages abuse.
Ultimately, as one fishing boat captain told us, if the Burma or Cambodian economies boom and there are jobs for men back home, the Thai fishing fleet will be in trouble.
This could also force the industry to change its ways, quite aside from any consumer pressure. For now though, the flow of men trafficked into slavery on fishing boats continues.
By Becky Palmstrom, BBC News
Published on 23 January 2014
RANGOON-A leading migrant rights activist said 10 percent of Burma’s labor force currently works abroad as laborers, adding that there is an urgent need to improve the Burmese government’s migration policies so that it can better regulate migrant labor and protect workers.Andy Hall, a British migrant labor expert at Bangkok’s Mahidol University, said reducing violations of migrant’s rights should be a major government priority as so many of the country’s 60 million people work abroad.
“It’s a big issue for Myanmar, 10 percent of the workers are overseas; 10 percent of Myanmar’s population is huge. But the capacity of the government to manage those [migrant flows] is very constrained,” he said.
“I think the government is giving increased effort towards improving the management of migration, but there is still a long way to go,” he added.
Hall was speaking on the sidelines of an EU-funded workshop in Rangoon on Friday, where officials of the Ministry of Labor, Employment and Social Security met with UN agencies, the International Labor Organization, migrant advocates and migrant laborers.
Hall said the two-day event was meant to inform the ministry as it seeks to develop new migrant labor policies and management, and build up the knowledge levels of its staff.
“It’s also very important that the government works with the workers, the workers are key. If they don’t agree then you can’t have a migration policy,” he said.
Deputy Director-General Myo Aung from the ministry’s labor department acknowledged in an interview that the government’s capacity to regulate the massive flows of migrant labor and to advocate for the rights of millions of workers abroad was limited.
“We need more human resources and skills in order to have better policies and laws in our department,” he said, adding that the Thai government should do more to help to protect the Burmese workers there.
Myo Aung said there were “a lot of abuses” of workers in Thailand. “To bring dignity to Burmese people who are in Thailand, I think they should give them one-year work permits,” he added.
There are believed to be between 2 and 3 million Burmese migrants in Thailand and many of them are unregistered workers, making them vulnerable to abuse by unscrupulous Thai employers. A smaller number of Burmese work in countries such as Singapore and Malaysia.
Thailand and Burma have been trying to reach a bilateral agreement over how these millions of migrants can be officially registered and given Burmese identity papers and Thai working permits. Burma has requested more time to issue identity paper to its workers, but Thailand has been reluctant to do so.
The so-called Nationality Verification process has also been plagued by bureaucratic problems and accusations that it requires workers to pay bribes to corrupt officials, pushing them further into debt bondage with their employers.
After decades of economic stagnation under military rule Burma offers limited employment opportunities and many Burmese migrate to Thailand via unofficial channels to perform cheap labor in the Thai fishery, garment and construction industries, or to work as domestic servants.
By Lawi Weng
Published on 15 March 2013
A medical expert has urged the government to expand health care schemes to include migrant workers.The aim would be to ease the financial burden on hospitals which have to provide treatment for them.
Phusit Prakongsai, director of the International Health Policy Programme Thailand, said that about 4 million migrant workers, both legal and illegal are living in Thailand.
It is estimated that this number will rise to 5 million after the Asean Economic Community begins in 2015.
The existing health care schemes only cover Thailand’s 65 million citizens.
Dr Phusit said many hospitals are under financial strain, especially where there are high concentrations of migrant workers. He said these hospitals meet the cost of treating the workers because they are morally obliged to do so.
The doctor said Samut Sakhon Hospital overspends by 30 million baht a year to support both legal and illegal migrant workers in the fishing industry who cannot pay for treatment.
Umphang Hospital in Tak province, has reported a yearly deficit of 28-million-baht. There is also a shortage of medical staff in these hospitals when compared with the number of patients, both Thai and foreigners.
Last week, the National Health Personnel Committee of the National Health Commission agreed with Dr Phusit who is also secretary of a sub-committee implementing the World Health Organisation’s Global Code of Practice on International Recruitment of Health Personnel. The commission is set to discuss Dr Phusit’s proposal with the Public Health Ministry early next month. Dr Phusit said if the health care schemes were expanded, it would help public health authorities accurately allocate budgets.
By Paritta Wangkiat
Published on 15 November 2012