Thai-based Burmese migrants systematically denied compensation

June 10, 2009 (DVB), A coalition of Thai labour unions has filed a complaint to the International Labour Organisation alleging unfair treatment of Burmese migrant workers in Thailand, with many being denied compensation following accidents.

More than a quarter of the estimated two million Burmese migrant workers who have arrived in Thailand illegally have obtained a residence certificate and work permit entitling them to work legally.

Still, says the State Enterprise Workers Relations Confederation (SERC), Thailand prohibits employers of migrant workers paying dividends to the Workmen's Compensation Fund, which provides financial aid in case of an accident at work.

This, according to the SERC, contravenes an International Labour Organisation (ILO) convention on the treatment on migrant workers that has been ratified by both the Burmese and Thai governments.

"[Migrant jobs] are dirty jobs, they're dangerous jobs; mainly in construction, agriculture, fishing manufacturing," says the coordinator for UK-based Human Rights Development Foundation (HRDF), Andy Hall.

"The workers are working in conditions where they're likely to have accidents quite frequently."

A case study used to back up the complaint, which HRDF has been assisting the SERC with, is of Nang Noom, a woman who was paralyzed in 2006 after a 300 kilogram mould fell on her at a construction site where she worked.

It was only following a media campaign and pressure on the Thai government by HRDF that she received nearly 600,000 baht ($US17,600) in compensation, the highest compensation ever paid to a migrant worker.

But, says the SERC, the problem continues. Burmese migrants have to satisfy "almost impossible" criteria before receiving government compensation, and so the decision is left to their employers.

The result is that "many employers do whatever they can to avoid compensating heir injured migrant worker", say the SERC.

Thailand's economy is reliant on cheap migrant labour, and the "environment of repression and economic deterioration" in Burma works as a strong push factor for Burmese to look for work in Thailand.

But, says the complaint, these workers "are relegated to a social zone of lawlessness where they are not protected by the criminal and civil laws of Thailand, much less Thai labour laws".

The HRDF have used the case of Nang Noom as a pressure tool to bring the discrimination of migrant workers to light.

"What we are trying to do with this is case is to use it as a test case; we're trying to get the [Thai] government to respond, to allow the migrant workers to access the social security system in Thailand," said Hall.

The root cause of the problem, he added, was that the process between Thailand and Burma for dealing with migration was breaking down.

In an attempt to formalise this process, the Burmese government has demanded migrant workers return to Burma to verify their nationality, after which they are free to return to Thailand for work.

This, however, says Hall, is an impossible task for the two million migrant workers currently in Thailand.

Reporting by Soe Naing and Rosalie Smith

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