Yearly Archives: 2008
A 56-year-old ethnic Shan migrant worker, Sam Htun, is typical of many Burmese who live in Thailand, grateful for the opportunity to work for a decent income.
“I feel my life in Thailand is more secure than in Burma,” he says. “In Thailand, it is easier to make a living.”
He lives in Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand, where thousands of Burmese migrant workers have gainful employment, enabling many workers to send money home to family and loved ones.
Sam Htun earns about 4,500 baht (about US $130) a month. In Burma, he earned 10,000 to 20,000 kyat (about $8 to16) per month. He never had enough money to get by, he said.
He now sends about 17,000 kyat (about $13) every month to his family in Taunggyi in Shan State in eastern Burma. He said he left Burma because he felt oppressed by Burmese authorities and because of the poor economy.
He is one of the hundreds of Shan migrant workers who stay at Kakanok 2, a Burmese migrant worker camp in San Kamphaeng in Chiang Mai Province.
The Kakanok 2 camp houses about 200 Burmese migrant workers, mostly ethnic Shan, who have legal work permits.
Most work in construction and have lived in Chaing Mai from three to eight years. A close knit community, they attend training workshops and hold ethnic celebrations on holidays and other occasions.
Much of the training is provided by a nongovernmental organization, the Human Rights and Development Foundation, which specializes on migrant labor rights.
The migrant workers have created their own worker rights group, the Migrant Workers Federation. On International Migrant Workers Day, December 18, they held a simple ceremony attended by about 200 migrants, guests and a few journalists.
When the ceremony started about 7 p.m, workers, children and elders gathered in a hall, looking happy and excited.
During the evening, there were question and answer games that served to educate workers about labor rights. For a correct answer, prizes were awarded.
“The ceremony is good because it educates migrant workers about their rights,” said migrant worker Sam Htun.
The chairman of the Migrant Workers Federation, Sai Kad, who organized the ceremony, said, “I’m glad when I see a lot of migrant workers come together and enjoy the evening. It makes me want to fight more for the rights of migrant workers.”
He said too many migrant workers still experience poor working conditions, and they didn’t know how to complain and demand compensation from employers if they are injured or denied wages.
“Before, they didn’t even know they were abused,” he said. “But they know now.”
A 26-year-old migrant worker, Sai Hla Woon, said, “I’m glad I came to this program. I learned something. We can rely on ourselves and help each other.”
“If I am mistreated now, I will go to the labor protection and welfare office,” he said.
By SAW YAN NAING Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Hundreds of Burmese tsunami survivors—who are still migrant workers in Thailand, four years after almost losing their lives—are still fearful of another killer wave, according to NGO staff in the Phang Nga district of southern Thailand.
Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Thursday, Htoo Chit, Excutive Director of Grassroots Human Rights Education and Development Committee (Burma), said, “Survivors are still afraid that another tsunami is imminent. A guy called me one time at 2 a.m. for help.
He and his colleagues had climbed to higher ground above a rubber plantation convinced that a tsunami was coming.”
According to Grassroots Human Rights Education and Development Committee (Burma), there are about 10,000 Burmese workers currently working in Phang Nga—mainly on construction sites, fishing boats and rubber plantations.
Authorities in the Phuket area have set up a tsunami warning system, which can be broadcast in different languages. However, there is no Burmese-language warning.
Some Burmese workers, not understanding an announcement, have been known to run for cover, he said.
The deputy director of the Grassroots Human Rights Education and Development Committee (Burma), Po Po, said that in February she had to drive out and pick up Burmese migrants who had fled to a mountain three kilometers away out of fear of an impending disaster.
“Even four years after the event, some people still cannot talk about the tsunami,” she said. “They just break down in tears.”
Tsunami survivor Achai, 30, a migrant Burmese who today works on a construction site earning 203 baht (US $5.60) per day, said, “I lost ten friends in the tsunami.
“I was by the beach on a construction site. Suddenly, I saw a huge wave coming. I ran into the building. I escaped by about two seconds. My other 10 friends got taken by the wave.”
Lyi Mong, a tsunami survivor from Mudon in Mon State, said that Burmese victims didn’t get any assistance from the Thai government. “Only Thai people got financial aid,” she said. “Some got new houses and have come out of it even better than before the tsunami.”
The 26 December 2004 tsunami is described as one of the worst natural disasters in the history of mankind. It killed an estimated 280,000 people.
In Thailand, the official number of people killed or missing stands at 8,212. Some 388 bodies remain unidentified, many of whom could well be Burmese, say Thai officials.
By LAWI WENG Thursday, December 25, 2008
HCM CITY — Despite the gloomy global economic outlook and premature return of many Vietnamese guest workers, demand for labour will remain strong, analysts say.
Companies in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are still inviting many Vietnamese to work as construction, mechanical, welding, and domestic workers.
In traditional markets like Taiwan and South Korea, only certain sectors like auto spare parts and garment and textile are affected by the financial crisis and have to cut jobs.
In 2008, despite the crisis, more than 85,000 guest workers went abroad, fulfilling the target.
But, Vietnamese workers need more training while labour agencies must find ways to improve workers’ skills to fit the bill abroad, deputy minister of Labour, Invalid and Social Affairs Nguyen Thanh Hoa said.
They also need to be trained in foreign language skills and the culture and laws of the country where they will work, he said.
He urged labour agencies to expand to developed markets, while continuing to exploit existing ones.
His ministry has tasked the Overseas Labour Management Department to check the current status of Vietnamese workers in seven key markets – the Republic of Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Malaysia, the Czech Republic, the UAE, and Qatar to discover and resolve emerging problems.
More workers to return prematurely
Around 200 workers have been laid off in Taiwan and have returned home, and the figure is expected to increase further.
With the International Labour Organisation forecasting that many companies around the world will eliminate jobs in 2009 due to the crisis, many Vietnamese guest workers are likely to return home before their contracts expire.
But, Asian countries are expected to remain Viet Nam’s key labour markets in addition to new markets in East Europe.
Around 500,000 Vietnamese work in more than 40 countries and territories all over the world, remitting home around US$1.6-2 billion every year.
One hundred and fifty six firms have been licensed to recruit guest workers.
The country plans to send 90,000 workers abroad next year and 100,000 workers the following year. — VNS
SEOUL — Working in the Republic of Korea is a top choice for many Vietnamese labourers. However, the current financial crisis may force workers to rethink their choices.
Financial difficulties and tight bank loans have affected many Korean enterprises, particularly small-and medium-sized business that employ up to 80 per cent of imported workers, including Vietnamese labourers.
Lured by an advertised income of over US$1,000 per month, exported workers have dreams of striking it rich by signing a three-year contract with Korean companies. These hopes might have come true if the economy had not been plunged into a state of meltdown.
Before the crisis, Vietnamese workers got around $850 per month, but could usually earn up to $1,200 by working overtime.
Presently many businesses are working at just 50-70 per cent of their capacity, so even local workers are facing the possibility of losing their jobs. In addition, the devaluation of the South Korean won to the US dollar has decreased workers’ income by roughly 30 per cent.
Nguyen Ngoc Quynh, director of the Overseas Labour Supply Department under the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs (MoLISA), said the ministry had asked the Korean Ministry of Labour to support Vietnamese workers during this difficult period.
The Korean labour ministry is responsible for monitoring enterprises to ensure they pay workers’ salaries and protect employee rights in case of bankruptcy.
Nonetheless, workers entering the South Korean under the employment permit system (EPS) are lucky since they are protected under law as Korean workers.
There are about 16,000 skilled Vietnamese workers remaining in Korea illegally after the completion of their contracts.
These workers tend to frequently change their vocation and accommodation, which makes it difficult for the labour managing board to gather information on them. Most Vietnamese work at small enterprises with less than 30 employees.
But many of these ‘roaming workers’ have unstable jobs and risk being maltreated by employers since they have no contract.
Without ID, insurance or welfare, they often have difficulty caring for their families’ health and are subject to arrest and deportation.
Korean authorities recently decided to lay heavy fines on illegal workers and their employers. Vietnamese agencies are helping this effort by encouraging illegal workers to return home and educating new workers about their responsibility to fulfil their contracts.
On Vietnamese Labour Day in South Korean in August, MoLISA Minister Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan called on workers to work hard and obey Korean laws in order to keep opportunities open for future workers. — VNS
About 50 Shan migrants and NGO workers gathered at the International Center in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand on Thursday to mark International Migrant’s Day and to speak out about the injustices and lack of rights afforded to Burmese migrants in Thailand.
“We want to give Burmese migrants voices and let them tell an audience what they feel,” said one of the event’s organizers, Jackie Pollock, a founding member of the Migrant Assistance Programme (MAP) Foundation in Thailand. “We also want to let them have a day off.”
As part of the International Migrant’s Day event, the organizers released an animated documentary on DVD which illustrated the dangers and discriminatory practices that Burmese workers frequently face working abroad.
The cartoon depicted various scenarios, such as in factories, at construction sites or in agricultural jobs, where migrant workers often find themselves without protective clothes or working in unsafe or unhealthy environments.
Sai Mon, a migrant construction worker from Shan State, addressed the audience prior to the screening of the animation to confirm that such incidents frequently occurred. “I witnessed my Burmese co-worker get killed when a falling brick hit him on the head.
We were never given hard hats or safety equipment,” he said.
Nang Than Swe, a 26-year-old Shan woman said that she had been working in Thailand as a maid since she was nine. “I don’t even have my own room to sleep in,” she said. “I have to sleep in the dining room. I don’t feel that I have any security.”
Nang Than Swe said she earns 3,500 baht (US $100) a month and, after 15 years in Thailand, has almost forgotten how to speak Burmese.
“Working as a maid is so hard,” she said. “You have to keep working until the house owner goes to bed. Sometimes he doesn’t come home til after midnight and I have to cook until 2 am.”
Another Shan woman, Nang Su Line, who works as a maid in Chiang Mai, said she has never had a day off in one year.
“Even just to come to this event today I had to get up very early to do all my work,” she said. “And when I go home after this, I will have to keep working.”
There are estimated to be somewhere in the region of 1—1.5 million Burmese migrants working in Thailand, mainly as maids, construction workers, agricultural laborers or fishermen. Most work for lower wages than locals and receive no benefits.
According to the Thai Ministry of Labor, some 2 million foreign laborers work in Thailand. Although the majority are Burmese, many migrants from Cambodia and Laos are also smuggled into the country to feed local industries with cheap labor.
By LAWI WENG Thursday, December 18, 2008