Thailand petitioned over migrant rights

Rights groups have asked Thailand’s labour minister to alter a regulation that blocks migrant workers from accessing a government compensation scheme if they are injured in the workplace.

Fourteen groups, including international labour unions and the US Committee for Refugees and Immigration (USCRI), signed an open letter on 12 July to Phaithoon Kaeothong asking for the Work Accident Compensation (WAC) scheme to include the country’s migrant worker population, 80 percent of which is thought to be from Burma.

Rights groups have warned in the past that migrant workers, although an integral part of the Thai economy, are treated poorly by authorities and often denied access to education and healthcare. The letter stated that “migrant workers in Thailand are living and working in seriously degrading conditions”.

Last month Thai police launched a mass crackdown on illegal migrants in the country, rounding up thousands and placing them in detention. The government said it was targeting those who had failed to register for the nationality verification process, and it followed the creation of a governmental centre tasked with “suppressing and prosecuting” illegal migrants.

Hsein Htay, from the Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF), said that migrant workers who fall victim to injuries at work are forced to seek compensation from their employers, despite lax labour rights regulations meaning that employers can often get away without paying up.

The majority of Thailand’s migrant community works in low-skilled jubs such as construction and fisheries, where the risk of accident is high. Hsein Htay said that the letter was received by Kaeothong “who said he would do the best he can”.

The letter says that the WCA 1994 “clearly lays down conditions, systems and procedures for paying work accident compensation to all ‘workers’ who experience accidents, are disabled or die at work”.

It goes on to claim however that “in reality migrant workers in Thailand are denied many basic human and labour rights and standards of equality and non-discrimination are not being applied”.

A number of similar demands have been made to the Thai government in recent years, but Htsein Htay said that repeated rejections were done on the basis that most migrants had entered the country illegally and so were not eligible for state compensation.

“We expect that we will win the case,” he added. “We are making our demand in accordance with international labour law, Thailand’s labour law and the Thai compensation law.”

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