Migrant protest ends in violence

Dec 21, 2009 (DVB), Protests by Burmese migrant workers in western Thailand at the weekend ended in violence after security guards locked around 1500 demonstrators in a garment factory compound.

The protests were triggered after four factory security guards last Friday assaulted two Burmese nationals, Kalar Lay and Ko Waw, who had arrived at the factory in Mae Sot to collect their younger sister.

Kalar Lay was hospitalised after the beating. Ko Waw's subsequent disappearance drew the demonstrators, mostly women, to the factory compounds.

After security guards locked them in the compound, the protestors then set alight to a car belonging to the factory owner, and damaged factory property.

After two days of protests, police on Sunday brought Ko Waw back from Myawaddy in Burma, across the border from Mae Sot.

"We protested because there has been a lot of disappointment," said a female factory worker. "We can only go home from work after midnight, and no one pays attention when we get harassed or violated by someone."

Another woman who joined the protest said the factory officials on Sunday urged the employees to return to work.

"The employer urged us to come back to work starting from [Monday] and promised that they would not take any action," she said.

Workers said it was still unclear if they would have to pay compensation for the damage to factory property during the protest.

Negotiations between factory owners and workers, the majority of whom have not returned to work, are currently taking place.

Up to 80 percent of Mae Sot's inhabitants are estimated to be Burmese, many of whom work in low-skilled industries such as construction or factories for little pay. In Thailand there are thought to be around two million Burmese migrants.

Last month around 500 Burmese migrant workers in Mae Sot filed a mass lawsuit against 12 factories which they claimed had failed to pay their salaries.

Although a programme to register migrants in Thailand is currently underway, many still struggle to gain any sort of legal status in the country, meaning that access to education and health service is restricted.

Reporting by Min Lwin and DVB

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