Protection too costly for many Myanmar workers, The Nation

Many Myanmar migrant workers have to live without real legal protection because they cannot afford the inflated fees charged by some agents for nationality verification.“All the fees related to the process in fact should not exceed Bt2,000 per person, but we have found that most workers pay at least Bt5,500,” said Kyaw Zaw Linn, the Samut Sakhon location coordinator of the Migrant Justice Programme. He has also worked for the Human Rights and Development Foundation.

About 700,000-800,000 Myan-mar people have completed the nationality verification process in Thailand and become registered migrant workers, who are entitled to many legal rights and protection, he said.

“But many other migrant workers have no chance to get such protection because they cannot scrape up the fees,” he said.

The actual fees were higher than the authorities’ price list because most employers could not arrange nationality verification on their own and usually turned to agencies familiar with the process. Now there are more than 90 such agencies across the country – a drastic increase from 12 a few years ago.

A source said many employers who had tried to arrange nationality verification on their own had run into red tape and several other obstacles.

“Those agencies can do it so smoothly because they bribe officials,” the source said. Of the Bt5,500 paid by each worker, Bt2,000 was for legitimate fees for authorities, Bt1,000 or more for the agency and the rest for tea money.

Only after nationality verification is completed can workers be issued Myanmar passports and exercise their rights as registered migrant workers.

Some Myanmar workers have complained that some Myanmar officials are taking advantage of them by making them pay a higher fee.

However, Pol Captain Tin Tun of Myanmar’s Home Affairs Ministry said the lack of transparency was becoming less of a problem.

“We are serving here in Mahachai for our migrant workers under the cooperation of both countries. In our group, we have a total of eight officers including from the department of immigration, department of information and department of labour. Every three months, a group change will be made. We are the second group to Thailand.

“In this verification centre, we are working with the Thai Immigration Bureau and Thai Labour Department. Factories will report verification and numbers of their employees to Thai immigration and labour. The data will be sent to the Myanmar Embassy and the Department of Myanmar Labour.

“After the approval of both countries, we do the procedures for issuing passports by taking pictures and fingerprints. After the issuance of a passport, a visa will be applied for from Thai immigration for four years. We are solving the problems of workers as relatives,” Tin Tun said.

Ethnic Mon from Tanintharyi region and Karen from Karen state are the most successful workers in getting passports.

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s recent visit to Thailand has also given a big boost to Myanmar workers here because she has brought much attention to their living conditions.

“We have got a pay raise and there’s less abuse by Thai employers and authorities,” a worker in Mahachai said.

Several non-governmental organisations, networks and communities have also found it easier to work for the Myanmar workers’ cause.

By The Nation
Published on 16 July 2012

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