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Thailand: Discrimination Against Burmese Migrants

Thailand: Submission Of ILO Complaint Regarding Systematic Discrimination Against Burmese Migrants In Thailand

Mr. Sawit Keawan, General Secretary of Thailand’s State Enterprise Workers Relations Confederation (SERC*), today, file a complaint with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) during the 98th International Labour Conference in Switzerland. This complaint alleges that the Royal Thai Government (RTG) is breaching the ILO’s Equality of Treatment (Accident Compensation) Convention (C-19) by denying Burmese migrant worker access to the Social Security Office’s (SSO) Workmen’s Compensation Fund (WCF) following accidents at work.

On 4th December 2006, Nang Noom Mae Seng, a 37-year old Shan migrant worker from Burma, was left paralysed after being struck by a 300 kilogram mould at her worksite. Her official compensation claim was rejected by Thailand’s SSO. This was because she could not satisfy conditions for access to the WCF laid down in a 2001 SSO circular, requiring that: (1) Workers must possess a passport or alien registration documents; and (2) Their employers must have paid a dividend into the WCF. These conditions make it generally impossible for Burmese migrants to access the WCF.

The system for importing workers from Burma into Thailand continues to be a failure because of disagreements between the two Governments on verifying nationality of Burmese migrants already in Thailand. So Nang Noom and most of the other two million Burmese migrants in Thailand originally entered without documents. But over 500,000 of these workers have obtained a residence certificate and work permit allowing them to work ‘legally’ in Thailand. The problem is that the SSO refuses to accept these documents to meet requirements to gain access to the WCF.

There appears to be another double standard between Thai and migrant workers. The SSO prohibits employers of migrant workers from paying dividends into the WCF. Yet at the same time, regulations say that it is the responsibility of all employers who have one or more ‘workers’ to pay these dividends, and that it is the duty of the SSO to enforce this regulation. So when the employer of Thai workers fails to pay such dividends into the Fund and then one of their Thai workers has an accident, the SSO makes that employer pay retroactively into the Fund, and then Fund can then pay compensation to the victim directly. But for the injured migrant worker, this is not allowed.

As almost all migrant work accident victims in Thailand cannot satisfy conditions to access the WCF, their employers must pay them compensation directly. The problem is this creates the opportunity for employers to evade taking responsibility. As a result, many employers do whatever they can to avoid compensating their injured migrant worker. Thailand has thus created an informal system for compensating migrant work accident victims that results in the effective denial of access to compensation. Only in the most rare cases, where the injured migrant worker receives extensive legal and other assistance from a labour union, NGO or other group, does the migrant worker have a possibility of getting compensation. So there is a difference in treatment between ‘workers’ on the basis of nationality, and this is clearly discriminatory.

As a result of this systematic discrimination against Burmese migrant workers, the RTG is failing to adhere to ILO Convention 19 which requires equal treatment regarding work accident compensation between nationals and non-nationals. SERC is therefore beginning to utilize the ILO’s supervisory mechanisms as part of continued attempts to convince the Ministry of Labour (MoL) to cease denying these fundamental rights to vulnerable migrant workers.

SERC has pressed senior MoL officials to address the fact that Burmese work accident victims rarely receive adequate compensation, but the MoL has ignored our requests. Three court cases have been filed against the SSO, but Thailand’s courts have been unable to deal with them. The National Human Rights Commission of Thailand has issued recommendations, which were ignored by the MoL. Finally, in March 2009, international complaints were submitted alleging violations of the UN Convention on Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Despite all these efforts by SERC and our networks in Thailand, millions of Burmese migrant workers continue to be denied official work accident compensation.

This example of discrimination that SERC highlights today is just one of many experienced by migrant workers in Thailand, who work hand in hand with Thai workers to develop the Thai economy. Instead of integrating foreign workers into our society, the RTG continues to deny them fundamental rights in many parts of their lives.

The predatory policies of the Burmese military have already created an environment of repression and economic deterioration that force millions of Burmese to seek refuge and a better life in our country. These workers have faced abuses enough already and must not also be denied rights under ILO Convention 19, which has been ratified by Thailand.

In an era of global migration, international labour standards must be enforced in migrant receiving countries to ensure migrants work in acceptable conditions. The ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principlesand Rights at Work proclaims ‘the ILO should give special attention to the problems of migrant workers.’ The ILO Constitution also provides that if any of the ILO’s member states fail to secure effective observance of a Convention to which they are party, worker organisations can take this non-compliance to the ILO’s Governing Body.

Thailand’s refusal to respect ILO Convention 19 should now be brought before the ILO’s Governing Body. This should provide additional pressure on the RTG to remove obstacles unfairly faced by Burmese migrants seeking access to work accident compensation. The ILO must also keep continued failings by the Burmese junta at the top of its agenda, as this is the root cause of an increasingly irregular migration flow from Burma into Thailand.

*The State Enterprise Workers Relations Confederation (SERC) is a national confederation of 43 state enterprise unions in Thailand representing over 170, 000 registered members and affiliated to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).

For more information, please contact:
Mr. Sawit Keawan (General Secretary, SERC): +66 (0) 767 519593 (Thai only)
Mr. Somboon Trapsarn (Deputy General Secretary, SERC): +66 (0) 813 520035 (Thai and English)
Mr. Andy Hall (Translator for Mr. Sawit Keawan): +66 (0) 846 119209 (English)

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984. The above statement has only been forwarded by the AHRC.


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