500 migrant workers sue Thai employers

Nov 6, 2009 (DVB), Hundreds of Burmese migrant workers in a Thai border town have filed a lawsuit against their employers for allegedly failing to pay salaries, a migrant organisation said.

The migrant workers in Mae Sot, across the border from Burma's eastern Karen state, claim that employers failed to abide by regulations laid down by Thailand's Ministry of Labour.

"More than 500 workers from 12 factories have filed their case but the number of complainants from each factory is as high as 185," said Ko Aye, workers' affairs manager of Migrant Assistance Program (MAP) Foundation in Mae Sot.

"This 500 is only for this year. There have been 138 similar cases since 2001 with 2,077 workers involved. The number of women is greater than that of men."

In the past, workers filed their complaints at a local labour liaison office and court, and in some cases, the judges have ruled in favour of compensation.

Ko Aye said however that the employees had to go on trial whenever their employers failed to fully abide by the court decision.

MAP Foundation, together with its lawyers, has been conducting awareness education programmes for workers, focusing on responses to arbitrary dismissals and closure of factories without prior warning.

Employees from a knitting factory in Mae Sot on Wednesday appeared in court to testify that they had been denied wages. The employer had agreed to compensate for six and a half months' wages but later shut the factories without prior notice, leaving the workers jobless.

"The complaint includes less than standard, overtime fees and weekend charges," a workers' rights activist told DVB. The workers had received only 50 Thai baht ($US1.50) out of an eligible 150 Thai baht ($US4.50).

"They should be compensated about 100,000 Thai baht ($US2,995) each but they said they would be satisfied with 30,000 ($US900). The trial was adjourned until 21 December."

Around two million Burmese migrants are estimated to work in Thailand, the majority in the agricultural, fishery and construction sectors.

According to organisations working on migrant issues, complaints about denial of wages for migrant workers are common throughout Thailand.

Reporting by Aye Nai

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