On 18 December 2015, at the Holiday Garden Hotel, Chiang Mai, Thailand, participants gathered to celebrate the 25TH International Migrant’s Day. This year’s theme was “Living Wages”, in a bid to highlight the gap between the cost of living and wages earned by migrant workers. MMN and partner organisations including Workers Solidarity Association (WSA), MAP Foundation, Shan Youth Power (SYP), Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN), Migrant Workers Federation (MWF), Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF), and EMPOWER foundation jointly organized the event. 138 participants attended including migrant workers, civil society organisation (CSOs), academics, government representatives from Myanmar, and representatives from relevant Chiang Mai offices.
Mr. Puttipong Sirimat, Deputy Governor of Chiang Mai, gave the opening speech in which he emphasized the important contributions of migrant workers to the economy in Chiang Mai province. He observed that Thailand’s aging population and slowing birthrate make migrant workers vital to strengthen Thailand’s stagnating economic growth and shrinking labour force. In addition, Mr. Sirimat highlighted the challenges to solving the problem of labour exploitation that migrant workers still face.
The opening speech was followed by a stage performance by migrant workers who presented the issues of working conditions and wages experienced by migrant workers in various sectors such as agriculture, construction, factory, domestic work and services. For the finale, the performers demanded a living wage, safety and health at the workplace and social welfare.
Next, participants were divided into four groups to discuss the issues faced by migrant workers in Chiang Mai. Among the topics discussed were: wages and social welfare, exploitation, problems at the immigration office and developing the recommendation address to the governments of Myanmar and Thailand. The outcomes from the group discussions were incorporated into the statement presented to the government representatives of Myanmar and the governor of Chiang Mai, Thailand.
The afternoon activity was the panel discussion “Economic Rights of Migrants is Human Rights”. Contributors discussed the current economic conditions of migrant workers in Chiang Mai, the services provided by the governments of Myanmar and Thailand to improve migrant workers’ economic benefits and what policies need to be changed. The panelists included migrant workers, representatives of the government of Myanmar, Chiang Mai labour authorities, and migrant advocacy groups in Chiang Mai.
Mr. Sai Phyu from Workers Solidarity Association (WSA) highlighted the fact that many migrant workers earn wages lower than the cost of living, and that many migrants, especially women in domestic work, have long working days with low wages, no social security/health insurance, no days off and no maternity leave, etc. He called for the effective enforcement of labour laws and the protection of migrant workers’ rights. Mr. Oom Khur, representative of Migrant Workers Federation (MFR), added that many migrant workers have limited knowledge about how to manage their finances, especially with their extremely low incomes, and that the cost of living such as education for children, social costs and extra-fees for government services present many challenges to migrants’ financial management.
Mr. San Yu Kyaw, Consul/First Secretary of the Consulate General of Myanmar, pointed out that migrant workers significantly contribute to the development of Myanmar, and reviewed the assistance services for migrant workers in Thailand provided by the Myanmar government. Capt. Jaran Khunyosying, Labour Specialist, Senior Professional Level, Representative of Chiang Mai Provincial Labour Protection and Welfare Office, discussed labour laws and noted that all migrant workers will be equally protected under Thai labour laws. Ms. Rujira Chomphupan, Senior Labour Specialist, Representative of Chiang Mai Provincial Employment Office, emphasized that work permits are required for all migrants living and working in Thailand, hence migrant workers should closely pay attention to the government registration announcements and processes to ensure that they obtain the proper documents. Ms. Sukanta Sukpaita, Representative of Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF), shared the challenges to basic survival for minimum wage earners in Thailand, and pointed out that these challenges are greater for migrant workers who receive less than the minimum wage. She concluded her remarks by demanding that the Thai government respect migrant workers’ rights, ensure the fair treatment of migrant workers in accordance with the international standard, and urged the governing bodies of ASEAN to recognize migrant workers’ capabilities and sufferings by allowing their freedom of employment under the AEC. Subsequently, Thai regulations and Myanmar government services were clarified in detail during the question and answer session.
Ms. Sukanta Sukpaita concluded the event by reading a statement on behalf of the event organizers, and a statement by the migrant worker representatives to the representatives of the government of Myanmar and the representatives of Chiang Mai officials.