Thailand: Rights Groups call for improved rights for Migrant Workers

15 Feb 2011   |  Advocacy Campaigns   |  Press Release  

Rights Groups call for improved rights for Migrant Workers

(Feb 15, 2011  Bangkok) A group of civil society organizations, which included Thai and Burmese organizations, sent an open letter to the Thai Ministry of Labor calling for safer and better working conditions for migrant workers in Thailand—most of whom are Burmese—who are often mistreated and exploited by local authorities and their employers.

The letter was signed by a group of 14 human rights organizations and delivered to Singhadet Chuumnart, the director of the Bureau of International Cooperation under the Ministry of Labor. The organizations asked him to take the lead in ensuring that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers (the Asean Declaration) is enforced as a legal binding document in Thailand which protects undocumented as well as documented migrants in the country.

The group also called for access to appropriate education and training for the children of migrant workers and improvement in the enforcement of legal protections for women workers. In addition, they asked the Thai government to make information on laws and policies regarding and impacting migrants—including working conditions, types of jobs and existing health education and social services—accessible to migrant communities in their own language.

Andy Hall, the director of the Migrant Justice Program for the Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF), said, “We just try to push Thailand to ensure they act in accordance with the Asean Declaration with respect to the rights of migrant workers.”

The move came as representatives from Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines prepare to meet to draft an instrument designed to enable countries to effectively implement the Asean Declaration.

In their joint letter, the rights groups strongly urged the Thai government to take the lead in the Asean Committee on the Implementation of the Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers.

Specifically, it urged the Thai government to work to ensure that the Asean Instrument to Protect and Promote the Rights of Migrant Workers is treated as a legally binding document, covers all migrant workers regardless of legal status and includes the families of migrant workers.

The HRDF told The Irrawaddy that the recent case of Chalee Diyo provides a prime example of migrant worker abuse in Thailand.

According the HRDF, Diyo is a 33-year-old Burmese migrant worker who is currently hospitalized in Bangkok due to a work related accident that broke his pelvis and caused severe damage to his intestines. Despite the fact that Diyo holds a legal work permit, the hospital in Pathum Thani Province where Diyo was first admitted asked the police to arrest him. The police complied, and the Burmese migrant was transferred first to Bangkok\'s Immigration Detention Centre and then to the Police General Hospital in Bangkok, where he was chained to the bed for four days until rights groups started a campaign against his unlawful detention.

“Chalee’s case is really symbolic,” Hall said, explaining that he is a work-related accident victim with a legal work permit who was detained for 16 days by Thai authorities.

The HRDF said in a statement that such cases as Chalee\'s should not happen in Thailand because it is shameful, inhumane and tantamount to an attempt to shield exploitative employers from responsibility. Every worker, regardless of his or her nationality, must be entitled to equal protection under the law and the concerned authorities must strictly enforce the law to hold negligent employers to account, the statement said.

With Chalee being threatened with deportation and incurring medical expenses totalling about 70,000 Baht (US $2,400) which his employer refused to cover, the Human Rights Committee of the Lawyer’s Council of Thailand (LCT) helped bring his case in front of the Southern Bangkok Criminal Court.

After reviewing Chalee\'s case, the court ordered on Tuesday that Chalee be released from custody immediately and that the Immigration Bureau pay him 3,000 Baht ($100) in damages. In addition, the court order stated that Chalee could not be deported to Burma and his employer must pay for his medical expenses.

After the court decision, Vasant Panich, the chairman of the Human Rights Committee of the LTC and the lawyer who represented Chalee in court, said, “Chalee’s case highlights how law enforcement officials in Thailand continue to systematically abuse powers of arrest and detention, particular with migrant workers.”

HRDF Secretary General Somchai Homlaor said, “Chalee\'s case has exposed systemic failures in Thailand\'s systems of migration management and in particular systems for ensuring protection, treatment and compensation of migrant work accident victims.”

“Migrant work accident victims continue to be unprotected, falling outside work accident protection systems created by the Government for all workers in Thailand,” he added.

There are about 2 million documented and undocumented Burmese migrants in Thailand.

Thailand: Rights Groups call for improved rights for Migrant
By SAW YAN NAING Tuesday, February 15, 2011

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