21-23 April 2017, Chiang Mai
From 21-23 April, MMN co-organized an exhibition on the history of Northern Thailand’s labour movement in collaboration with 19 other organizations working on labour issues across Thailand’s Northern provinces.
Presentations, seminar discussions, and an exhibition – including photos and a multimedia documentary from MMN’s “Beyond ‘Tolerance’: Living Together with Migrants” project – drew an audience to the third floor of Chiang Mai’s Central Airport Plaza over the course of the 3 days.
Mr. Arak Phrommanee, Advisor to the Minister of Labour, opened the exhibition on Friday 21 April. During his presentation, Mr. Phrommanee acknowledged the fact that while informal workers make up more than half of the Thai workforce and are undeniably essential to the nation’s economy, many of these workers are highly vulnerable and often lack access to social welfare.
The Advisor to the Minister of Labour declared that the Ministry aspires to improve the protection of informal workers under Thai labour laws; increase informal workers’ access to social welfare, sustainable income, and occupational health and safety practices; and enable the formation of trade unions in the informal sector. However, he noted, the effective management and protection of informal workers in Thailand remains a challenge.
Following his presentation, Mr. Arak Phrommanee was guided through the exhibition by a representative of the organizing committee to view organizations’ and unions’ displays, including MMN’s photos illustrating the social inclusion and exclusion of Mekong migrant workers and their families.
Keynote speaker and a professor from Chiang Mai University, Dr. Attajak Sattayanurak, continued the presentations by contextualizing Thailand’s national economy and labour market, which is being shaped by the country’s aging population. His presentation also highlighted the growing economic significance of the informal sector and issues of workers’ identities.
A seminar discussion titled, “We’re all Workers”, concluded Friday’s event and was comprised of speakers representing workers from academia, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), state enterprises, and the informal sector; workers affected by exposure to potassium chlorate in longan production; and workers who are members of trade unions.
Saturday 22 April marked day 2 of the exhibition and commenced with “Lanna 4.0” – a seminar discussion on working conditions in the digital age. Five speakers participated in the discussion, including an academic, an independent journalist, a freelance and sharing-economy worker, a representative of the Contract Farmers Network, and a representative of a group of persons with disabilities doing piecework.
Following the seminar, members of EMPOWER Foundation took to the stage to present on the history of Thailand’s sex industry highlighting the significant contributions sex workers make to the national economy. Presenters also described their personal involvement in Thailand’s labour movement and the birth of EMPOWER as an organization.
The final day of the 3-day exhibition on the history of Northern Thailand’s labour movement took place on Sunday 23 April and centered on the issues facing migrant workers in Thailand.
Following a musical performance by Thai Paradon Band and an introductory speech by a representative of the Northern Labour Network, MMN kicked off the event with an overview of the project and screening of the Thai-language multimedia presentation, “Beyond ‘Tolerance’: Living Together with Migrants”, which promotes the social inclusion of Mekong migrants and their families.
After the screening, a migrant worker in the audience shared: “I hope local people will understand how migrant workers feel. Thank you for giving migrant workers the opportunity to be here.”
Members of Workers Solidarity Association (WSA) – an independent association founded by Shan migrant workers living in Chiang Mai – performed a cultural dance and shared stories and photos of their working conditions and everyday realities, which strived to counter narratives of migrant workers ‘stealing’ jobs from local people.
The exhibition concluded with a final seminar discussion highlighting the social and economic contributions of migrant workers in Thailand from the perspective of an academic, NGO worker, employer, and the media.
For more photos and videos from the event, please visit the MMN Facebook Page.