Category Archives: Other Migration Issues in Mekong

TIP report harms, not helps, sex workers

The American government seems to enjoy the role of headmaster giving out grades to students.

The American headmaster has had 13 years to help Thai students improve its anti-human trafficking performance through the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, which ranks countries according to their efforts to end trafficking. The latest report card for Thailand, however, shows the problem is not getting any better. Worse, we are now ranked among the world’s worst performers.

The self-appointed American headmaster may blame his students, but wiser teachers would realise the TIP system simply does not work and has failed migrant workers in Thailand.

In its first TIP report card back in 2001, Thailand received a Grade 2, meaning “could do better”. Then in 2010, after eight years of cooperation with the USA anti-trafficking agenda and lots of money spent on anti-trafficking projects, Thailand was dropped to Grade 2.5.

Now in 2014, after millions of dollars and another four years of USA policy, human trafficking problems remain unchanged and Thailand has been dumped to Grade 3 by its headmaster.

America may need to ask this question: If you do something the exact same way every year for 13 years and things stay the same, or get worse, isn’t it time to change the school of thought?

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has a new strategic plan (2015-2020) with a focus on promoting decent work for all, especially ending forced labour and unacceptable working conditions for everyone. In short, it is going beyond an emphasis on trafficking victims.

The ILO, which has no particular country bias, is much better placed to monitor and guide international labour standards than a single country like America.

Despite good intentions, the TIP process and anti-trafficking law end up harming poor people who need work.

A Grade 3 means the US can stop or reduce aid to and trade with Thailand. We have not heard of any strategy or plan to assist workers who have lost their livelihoods from anti-trafficking crackdowns.

Trafficking is loosely defined as playing a role in the movement of people to benefit from the exploitation of their labour. In practice for the past 13 years, the enforcement of anti-trafficking laws has been limited to conducting raids and apprehending migrant workers in seafood factories and entertainment venues.

Migrant workers need to work to support themselves and their families. The implementation of anti-trafficking laws through crackdowns has, in effect, made providing for their family a criminal activity under the law and bilateral agreements with the USA.

It must be pointed out that labour standards and quality of life for migrant workers have not been improved by the American anti-trafficking policy; instead, it is an obstacle.

Workers should be able to address issues of unfair wages, dangerous work practices and working conditions. The anti–trafficking law hinders this process. Many migrant workers refuse to demand their rights due to the threat of “rescue and deportation” as trafficking victims.

The budget spent on anti-trafficking is substantial. In 2005, the American government awarded $95 million (3 billion baht) to 266 anti-trafficking projects, including seven in Thailand. Spending has increased since then.

Yet all this money has not resulted in better human rights or labour conditions for workers. In fact, we can argue that life has become harder, more dangerous and more expensive.

For example, Thai workers who want to work overseas have to pay much higher fees. Many are forced to borrow from loan sharks to meet the higher costs.

Migrant workers found they need to be assisted by someone in authority, or with influence, to move and find work. This need is often exploited, feeding the culture of corruption and exploitation.

In April 2008, 54 migrant workers from Myanmar suffocated and died while attempting to travel undetected in an unventilated container truck in Ranong.

In 2012, Empower released a report outlining the negative impacts of the anti-trafficking law on the lives of migrant sex workers and their families. Based on real-life experiences, it is an in-depth community research study that provides details and examples of widespread abuses.

For starters, American anti-trafficking money is attractive. Since the police already know the entertainment industry, they use entrapment to arrest sex workers. This is abuse in itself, according to the National Human Rights Commission.

To fulfill their crackdown homework under American anti-trafficking policy, police pretend to be customers, even using sex workers’ service first, before making arrests. It is accurate to say that rape is part of police work under this anti-trafficking policy.

Initially, the American anti-trafficking agenda focused on migrant sex workers who were labelled as victims but treated as criminals. Photos of raids — men in uniforms standing over women who are crouching, covering their faces, or with their eyes blacked out — are common in the media. These iconic images accompany almost every story on the crime of prostitution.

Over the past decade, the headlines might have changed but the image used is still the same. So is the situation of human and labour rights in the entertainment industry.

Now that the focus has shifted to workers in the seafood industry, another typical image that has emerged is that of migrant workers on fishing boats or women and children peeling shrimps. Will this image stay for another decade along with a similar lack of improvement in their work conditions?

Last year, Empower ran a project supported by the US embassy in Thailand to train sex workers in human rights and paralegal skills.

This project informed sex workers that even if they are suspected of breaking the law or are witnesses to the crime of human trafficking, they still have many rights. For example, they are entitled to have a translator, to contact their families or a trusted person. They also must be provided with a lawyer and other basic requirements, such as food, clothing and health care while in custody.

There are protections and punishments under each law and the overall principle is that if someone is not guilty, they must be released. However, the experience of migrants under current anti-trafficking practices is not one of protection and assistance according to the law. Under the anti-trafficking framework, migrants have been frequently kept in custody longer than any law prescribes.

Frequently there is help with translation. It is also common to establish migrant sex workers’ ages as minors by examining their teeth and/or by X-ray. These methods are often inaccurate, leading to further violations of human rights and prolonged custody. As witnesses, they are kept in custody and not cared for or compensated as they should be under the Witness Protection Act.

The Suppression of Human Trafficking Act 2008 actually offers much protection and assistance. However, there has been no full report on how these obligations are met, or full disclosure of budget and spending by the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security.

By overlooking the situation migrant sex workers face after police crackdowns, the American government comes across as indifferent to their rights. Maybe they just don’t care, and the number of “victims” arrested are merely used to show that someone is doing something to stop the criminals.

The US likes to be seen as a champion of human rights, equality and justice. But their TIP process and anti-trafficking agenda undermines these noble ideals.

All people need is to be able to work in safe and fair conditions. What we should aim for is the improvement of workplaces and labour rights for all workers, including sex workers, rather than following the American anti-trafficking agenda, which has failed the very people it sets out to help.
By: Chantawipa Apisuk, Bangkok Post

Migrants flock to Thailand for worker registration

Tens of thousands of new migrants from Myanmar have flooded into Thailand in recent weeks because of a new worker registration scheme launched on June 30, a labour rights network says.

The new arrivals hope that two-month registration cards issued under the program will make them eligible for temporary passports and work permits under a bilateral program, U Aung Kyaw, president of the Migrant Workers Rights Network (MWRN), told The Myanmar Times last week.

The hundreds of thousands of unregistered migrant workers in Thailand have been warned to sign up for the program by the end of July or potentially face deportation, fines and jail sentences. The program has been broadly welcomed by rights groups, including MWRN, although there are concerns it could exacerbate exploitation by brokers.

“I’d say since the scheme was launched two weeks ago an additional 10,000 Myanmar unregistered workers have arrived here in Samut Sakhon alone,” U Aung Kyaw said in his office in the port town outside Bangkok, where about 200,000 migrants work in seafood processing factories, as well as on fishing boats and construction sites.

About 60,000 of those were unregistered before the scheme was launched, he said.

U Aung Kyaw said a number of other provinces have experienced a similar influx of Myanmar nationals keen to acquire legal status in Thailand, which will allow them to travel freely around the country, give them a degree of legal protection and entitle them to higher wages.

Although only those who were in Thailand as of June 30 are officially eligible, new arrivals are also being registered; The Myanmar Times met one woman at a registration office who had just received a card despite only have arrived in Thailand two days earlier.

The strong demand for documentation is also being driven, in part, by fears of what it could entail for those who fail to comply.

“The military government has come in and tried to sort out 21 provinces, but it is not certain [what will happen to those who remain unregistered after the deadline]. There might be some kind of military action,” U Aung Kyaw said.

Shortly after Thailand’s military took control of the country on May 22, hundreds of thousands of migrants – the majority from Cambodia – fled the country because of fears of a clampdown on illegal workers.

In mid-June, Thailand, which has been subject to a number of high-profile slavery scandals, was finally downgraded to the lowest ranking in the US State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons report.

But Thailand’s economy is heavily reliant on migrant workers, who are mostly from Myanmar, and in late June the junta reestablished a registration process for foreign workers. An earlier program had lapsed because of the country’s political crisis.

The new registration scheme was launched initially in Samut Sakhon and then spread to other areas of the country.

While it has once again enabled workers to register, U Aung Kyaw said the process has a number of shortcomings, including its failure to verify the age of workers. Another loophole that has led to profiteering enables any Thai person, regardless of whether they own a business, to sponsor a migrant worker’s application.

“That means someone just needs to find a Thai person to sign for them, so now there are so many people acting as brokers. The registration card should only cost 1350 baht [US$42], but many people are having to pay 3000 or 4000 [$94 to $125],” he said.

U Aung Kyaw said some brokers could charge as much as 16,000 baht ($502) to bring workers into the country, with daily salaries for migrant workers averaging about 200 baht ($6), though the legal minimum wage is 300 baht ($9).

“I think the military government does want to make things better for migrant workers, but the problem is that they don’t necessarily know how to do it properly,” he said, adding that this “could actually make things worse than before”, particularly on child labour.

With people continuing to flood over the border into Thailand with the help of brokers and corrupt officials, the problem of illegal workers is unlikely to be resolved soon. “It’s hard to see how they can eliminate illegal migrants if they can’t control the borders,” he said.

By: Fiona MacGregor, Myanmar Times

Malaysian Police arrest Myanmar workers after passport checks

The Myanmar workers in Malaysia are facing increased arrests after having their passports checked in the wake of tightened security due to a string of murder cases.

Hsan Win, chairperson of the Kapong Funeral Service Society, said the arrests coincided with the demand of Myanmar Embassy requesting the Malaysian Labour Ministry to take action against the killings of Myanmar citizens.

Myanmar workers are now facing two dilemmas as they live in fear for getting killed and for getting arrested, he said.

“The situation is calm. But this is not a good sign. We dare not go downtown because we fear for the safety of our lives. If we try to go out, Malaysian police would check our passports and arrest us. They are also making a lot of arrests along the Thai-Malaysian border,” he said.

A large number of Myanmar workers had their passports kept by their employers, hence they found it difficult to go out and avoid arrest because they could not pass passport checks.

On July 8, Myanmar national AungKhin, aka Ko Tony, was found stabbed to death outside his house in Penang. Another man MyoPaing, chairperson of Kuala Lumpur Funeral Service for deceased Myanmar citizens, was killed on the following day.

“The embassy gives no help. We sent a letter to alert about the problem but this did not work out. The killings of Myanmar citizens in Malaysia have not be solved yet,” Hsan Win said.

By: Eleven Myanmar

Thai curfew affects Myanmar migrants’ income, Eleven Myanmar

The curfew in Thailand following last week’s coup has affected business owners and Myanmar migrant workers, according to a border-based rights group.

After the enforcement of curfew, Myanmar migrants in major cities such as Bangkok and Chiang Mai get paid the minimum daily wage of Bt300 without overtime.

“A worker earns 300 baht per day in Bangkok, a big city where living costs are high. Workers normally have to work between 10 to 12 hours to earn overtime pay. Now, they cannot work overtime so their incomes have been affected,” said Moe Gyo, chairman of Joint Committee for Movement of Myanmar Citizens’ Affairs.

Although the minimum wage has been set at Bt300, Myanmar migrant workers residing in Tak Province only receive around 180 baht per day and they need to work overtime to cover their daily expenses. However, they are facing difficulties now as they cannot work overtime.

Due to political turmoil for the past six months in Thailand, the Thai military imposed martial law on May 21 and staged a coup on May 22.

Nearly 4 million Myanmar migrants are currently working in Thailand.

By Eleven Myanmar

Published on 31 May 2014

May Day migrant protesters demand equal rights, Democratic Voice of Burma

International Workers’ Day celebrations were held all over Rangoon and among migrant communities in Thailand on Thursday.

In Rangoon’s Hlaing Tharyar, trade union leaders and members, including the director of International Trade Unions Federation (Burma), the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) liaison office and representatives from Myanmar Trade Unions Federation, gathered in a show of unity.

“Today we have representatives from the agriculture sector as well as the industrial and transportation sectors together to unite, regardless of differences in their work sectors,” said Michael from the Agriculture and Farmers Federation of Myanmar.

This is the third year that May Day celebrations could be held publicly in Burma since military rule ended in 2011.

“We have government officials also joining the event, including the deputy labour minister, which is really encouraging for us,” Michael said.

In the Thai border town of Mae Sot, hundreds of Thai and Burmese workers marched through the streets carrying banners and waving flags.

And in Chiang Mai, 200 Thai and Burmese workers marched to demand better labour rights.

Protest leaders read out a ten-point statement, which included equal labour rights for Thai and Burmese workers, and the formation of a committee with both Thai and Burmese speakers, to ensure the minimum wage is paid.

Migrant worker, Hein Htet, said more labour officers are needed at the Burmese Embassy to help resolve migrant issues.

“There is one labour attaché at the Burmese Embassy tasked to resolve issues with the migrant community across Thailand. This is nowhere near sufficient,” Hein Htet said.

“We would like the two governments to have a discussion to appoint more labour officers in provinces with large migrant populations.”

Chiang Mai’s provincial governor, Wichian Puttiwinyu, promised to hand their demands to Thailand’s Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

By Democratic Voice of Burma

Published on 2 May 2014

Back to Top