Burmese migrants face arrest due to dissolution of Thai parliament

Burmese migrants face arrest due to dissolution of Thai parliament

Many Burmese migrant workers are facing arrest because a proposal to have their expired working visas extended has hit a snag due to the House dissolution in Thailand.

Sompong Srakaew, director of Thailand’s Labour Rights Promotion Network (LPN), on Thursday said government policy on foreign labour became unclear after the House was dissolved almost two months ago.

Burmese workers who have worked here for four years need to return to their home country and stay there for at least three years before they can come back to work in Thailand.

This condition is stated in the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) co-signed by the governments of the two countries.

However, the Thai Labour Ministry has submitted a proposal to the cabinet that would allow workers who have worked for four years to continue working without having to go home.

Not long after the proposal entered the cabinet agenda, the House was dissolved. The proposal now hangs in limbo as the caretaker cabinet is not authorised to approve it.

For now, workers at the end of their four-year term are facing crackdown and repatriation by the authorities.

”Burmese authorities told their workers [whose four-year working visas have expired] that they could stay in Thailand without being prosecuted, but our police have started arresting them,” Mr Sompong said.

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He said the Labour Ministry should ask the Royal Thai Police Office to stop arresting the Burmese workers while the visa extension proposal is pending in cabinet. The LPN director said foreign labour was crucial to the Thai economy. If many of them returned home, the business and industry sectors would be badly affected, he said.

Many small-size enterprises opted not to take their migrant workers to have their working visas renewed because of red tape and long travelling distance between the companies and the state offices, said Mr Sompong.

Thailand’s Employment Department director-general Prawit Khiangpol said the department had no authority to ask police to stop arresting migrant workers with expired visas.

If the Burmese government was concerned about the workers, it should take the matter up with the caretaker government directly.

The department tried to solve the problem faced by workers with expired visas by submitting the proposal, which requires amending related laws, to the cabinet late last year.

However, the caretaker government had no authority to amend laws and doing so would violate the constitution, he said. Any amendments to the law must await a new government to decide, he added.

This article was first published in the Bangkok Post on 31 January 2014.

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