Employers in Tak have managed to persuade the authorities to slap travel restrictions on all migrants registered to work in five border provinces. Even migrants who hold temporary passports, which should allow them to travel freely throughout the country, are now facing restrictions.According to the Department of Employment’s memo of June 5, “Guidelines to Check the Documents of Migrants who Entered the Country Illegally Who Travel Outside of the Province”, the Federation of Thai Industries (Tak Chapter) reported that there is a shortage of workers because migrants are moving to other areas of Thailand. What they did not say was that the conditions and pay in the Tak border areas are so bad that migrants leave to find better working conditions elsewhere.
Migrants in Mae Sot have long complained that they have been put last in the queue to receive these documents, with migrants working in other areas of Thailand receiving their documents ahead of those based in Mae Sot. Now that they have received them, they are being treated differently from migrants registered in other areas of Thailand. They are still being restricted from travelling, despite the national regulation that migrants holding temporary passports can travel freely.
Migrants are now reporting that they are being stopped and turned back at Huay Hin Fon checkpoint even if they hold a temporary passport, a valid visa and a valid work permit. For others, they are being asked to pay money in order to continue on their journey.
The new restrictions are not only counter to the national policy but are also providing more opportunities for corruption and brokers.
Officials at the Huay Hin Fon checkpoint have been instructed to only allow migrants with temporary passports to travel if they have all the documents necessary to change employer. Migrants are thus relegated once more to the same status as holding the migrant workers’ card.
Migrants have invested time, energy and money to navigate the various procedures and steps to get legal status and hold a passport, visa and work permit. They are surely now asking themselves why they bothered. What do they have to show for their investment? They are still paid much less than the legal minimum wage. They are still working in substandard conditions. They are still not allowed to travel freely. They are still being called “migrants who entered the country illegally”. They are still being blamed for the border problems instead of being celebrated for the economic development of the border backwaters.
These restrictions on the travel of migrants holding temporary passports should be immediately lifted.
The real cause of the problem of the shortage of workers in Mae Sot is the appalling working conditions. The solution is simple: the Department of Employment and the Federation of Thai Industries, instead of making recommendations to immigration and exerting authority beyond their mandate, should instead instruct all employers in the five border districts of Tak to clean up their act and follow the law. Pay minimum wages, improve working and safety conditions and show a little respect for the workers who have made them so comfortable for so long.
By Pranom Somwong, Jackie Pollock and Stephen Campbell
Published on 5 July 2012