The bilateral MOUs on Cooperation in the Employment of Workers
In the past, most of Thailand’s migration policies were formulated unilaterally and the presence of migrant workers in Thailand was often not officially acknowledged by the governments of migrants’ home countries’. However, the political climate concerning migration has recently changed and inter-governmental cooperation over migration has increased. Thailand signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Cooperation in the Employment of Workers with Lao PDR, Cambodia, and Burma, in October 2002, May 2003, and June 2003 respectively.
For MOUs to be implemented, the country of origin first needed to verify the nationality of migrants who were already in Thailand in order to issue them with some form of identification or travel document. The Laotian authorities started the process of verifying the nationality of Laotian migrants in Thailand in 2005. Between January and October 2005, the total 33,937 migrants in Thailand were interviewed by the Laotian authorities and 33,908 of them had their nationality approved. Lao government also issued a decree regarding the rules and regulations of sending Laotian workers abroad. And by October 2006, 3,090 Laotian workers have been issued with a “passport” to work in Thailand1 .
Similarly, Cambodia has two registration processes in operation. Cambodia started the process of interviewing migrants in Thailand in 2005 to verify their nationality and between 14 November 2005 – 30 June 2006, the Cambodian multi-ministerial task force in Thailand verified the nationality and issued Certificate of Identify to 37,142 migrants, in addition to 75 migrants interviewed between March and April 2005, when 72 of whom had their nationality approved.
As for Burma, there have been several proposals since September 2005 concerning the methods of implementing the MOU. However, no concrete cooperation has taken place to date on this matter though there is a flurry of new labour recruiting agencies opening inside Burma and the Burmese authorities have started recruiting workers to send to Thailand by advertising in local newspapers.
Registration Policies in Thailand
Thailand’s successful economy has depended on the labour of migrant workers from neighbouring countries for over a decade. These migrants from Burma, Cambodia and Lao PDRcrossedthe borders illegally into Thailand and originally lived and worked without documentation. Thailand renewed the registration periods each year in an attempt to regulate migrants who were already in the country.
In June 2004, instead of requiring migrant workers to register with an employer for a one year migrant workers card, the policy allowed migrants and their families to register for a temporary residence ID card (Tor Ror 38/1). Although the temporary ID card did not infer any particular rights to the migrants, by breaking the dependency for legal status from the employers it gave migrants a certain freedom to leave abusive employers, live off site and participate in mainstream society. The card was free and for a short period, migrants mingled with general society, chatted in their mother tongues without fear of being checked by the police and generally relaxed.However it was not long before crackdowns and arrests started and the migrants had to return to the anonymity on the work-sites.
The policy of July 2005 – June 2006 stated that those migrants who had registered during 2004 could apply to the renewal of permits. All migrants of working age with a temporary ID card (Tor Ror 38/1) were required to also apply for or extend the migrant workers cards. Dependents of registered migrants were allowed to continue their temporary ID status. The policy also allowed for governors of border provinces to develop appropriate policies to allowseasonal workers to cross the border for temporary work.
In addition to migrant workers having to register for temporary ID cards andtemporary migrant workers cards, employers who wished to employ migrant workers also hadto register the number of migrant workers they needed to fill the labour shortages.
The Interim Registration Policy of March 2006 – March 2007 goal was to register 200,000 workers through a regular system being organized through the MOUs with the neighbouring countries, and to register 300,000 through a new registration within Thailand.This registration differed from all other registrations of migrant workers in Thailand, since it required the employers to pay a deposit fee for each migrant.. Under this clause, the momentmigrants leave their employers they become illegal and liable for deportation.
Regular Registration of Migrant workers took place from July 2006 until June 2007. The caretaker Cabinet on May 16th 2006 approved a decision to allow migrants who had registered in July 2005 to extend for a further year with the same employer. Only workers who could prove that they had to change employers because of any of the following or similar reasons could register with a new employer:the employer died, the employer changed or stopped his/her business, the employer forced or abused the worker or didn’t pay the worker or unfair dismissal.Starting from June 2006, registration of employers employing migrant workers are now required to aid atkeeping better track, and essentially control, of migrant workers.
The regularization of migrant workers followed the MOU’s in 2003 and 2004.The Thai government signed MOUs with Lao PDR, Cambodia and Burma/Myanmar on the regularization of migrant labour to Thailand. For the MOU’s to be implemented the country of origin first needed to verify the nationality of migrants in Thailand in order to issue them with some form of identification or travel document. As a result, most migrant workers from Cambodia, Lao PDR and Burma were questioned on their nationality and then approved or denied status.
For the policy period of March 2007 or July 2007 through to January 28, 2008 and June 30th, 2008 respectively, migrants who had previously been registered are allowed to re-register for an additional year of permit.
Special Registration Scheme in Southern Provinces
As a result of a continued unrest in the three southernmost provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat, more than 2,800 people have been killed in the region since January 2004*2. The violence has directly impacted schools and teachers in the south, with arson attacks on schools and more than 60 teachers being killed, forcing schools to shut down on and off throughout the year. As a result, more than 2,000 teachers have asked to be transferred out of the region, creating an acute shortage of teachers.
Other workers have also moved out of the area for their own safety, creating a general labour shortage in these provinces. In January 2007, a policy was announced to register migrant workers in the five southernmost provinces which have been declared as special economic zones. Migrant workers in these areas would be issued a distinct colour-coded work permit which allowed them to work only in the five designated provinces, effectively imprisoning them in an area of violence and insurgency.
Aside from above mentioned MOUs (hereafter called Labour MOUs), Mekong countries have signed a number of statements or MOUs, most of which focus on trafficking. Mekong countries also signed the ASEAN declarations which include declaration in relations to HIV, trafficking and migrant workers. On 31 May 2003, Thailand and Cambodia signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Bilateral Cooperation to Eliminate Trafficking in Children and Women. At the 11th ASEAN Task Force on AIDS (ATFOA) meeting on 16-17 February 2004, Burma, Cambodia, China, Lao PDR and Vietnam met in Yangon, Burma, and signed the MOU for Joint Action to Reduce HIV Vulnerability Related to Population Movement, in which they agreed to further collaborate on the Joint Action Program, that was extended from the initial stage started in 2001.
The ASEAN heads of state signed the Declaration against Trafficking in Persons Particularly Women and Children in November 2004 in Vientiane, Lao PDR. In July 2005, Lao PDR and Thailand signed the MOU on Cooperation to Combat Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. In October 2005, Cambodia and Vietnam also signed an agreement on Bilateral Cooperation for Eliminating Trafficking in Women and Children and Assisting Victims of Trafficking. More recently in January 2007, ASEAN singed the Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers during the 12th ASEAN Summit held in Cebu, the Philippines.
The first Coordinated Mekong Ministerial Initiative on Trafficking (COMMIT) meeting was held in Bangkok, 28-30 July 2004, where senior officials from Burma, Cambodia, China, Lao PDR, Thailand and Vietnam discussed a new framework for fighting human trafficking in the region. The second COMMIT meeting was held on 27-28 October 2004 in Yangon, Burma, and 6 countries signed an MOU on Cooperation against Trafficking in Persons in the Greater Mekong Sub-Region and Sub-regional Action Plan in October 2004. COMMIT senior officials met again in Hanoi, Vietnam on 29-31 March 2005, where they adopted the Sub-regional Plan of Action.