The Labour Rights for All Programme assists migrants redress labour exploitation through rights education, informal collective bargaining, accessing the legal system and campaigning for policies for greater protection of their rights.
Migrants from Burma work all over Thailand in many different types of work. Both men and women work in construction, agriculture, horticulture, animal husbandry and the manufacturing and food processing industry. Women also work as domestic workers and caretakers in private households, or cleaners in large institutions. In fisheries, men generally work on the fishing boats, while women sort and clean the fish.
The Labour Protection Act of 1998 protects the basic labour rights of all workers in Thailand, including migrants, regardless of their legal status, guaranteeing a minimum wage, overtime payment, paid holidays, etcetera. However, practically, it is very challenging and intimidating for migrants who often have no legal immigration status to pursue cases and seek legal redress against labour abuses. Workers who dare to act against abuse and make a complaint against their employer will often lose any means of income or accommodation and are further liable for arrest and deportation by immigration authorities. In practice documented migrants who take legal action against exploitative employers generally lose their legal status and do not enjoy greater security. Furthermore, many sectors of work are excluded or only partially covered under the LPA, including domestic work and other occupations in the non-formal sector such as agriculture and fishing which are largely comprised of migrant workers. Domestic work fails to be recognized under the legal definition of work, and the majority of domestic workers do not even receive one day of holiday per week.
Thai legal provisions for social security and labour relations fail to protect migrants altogether. Despite the fact that migrants from Burma work in the most dangerous occupations in Thailand, such as construction, quarries and fisheries, Thailand does not allow low-wage migrant workers and employers to participate in the social security system. Migrants are ineligible for the Workmen's Compensation Fund which would provide compensation in case of workplace injuries, accidents and deaths and thus provide a social safety net to migrants. In addition, migrant workers are not allowed to form their own trade unions or run for election on the executive committee of a Thai trade union. Although migrants are allowed to join existing unions, only 3% of the Thai workforce is unionized, most unions are based in Bangkok and do not accommodate language differences.
Notwithstanding these challenges, numerous migrants have successfully fought against instances of labour exploitation, many with the help of the Labour Rights for All Programme.
Migrants interested in achieving justice for violation of their labour rights receive paralegal counselling, translations services, legal representation and, in cases of physical risk, provides access to safe housing. MAP supports migrants in numerous cases at the Labour Protection Office and before Labour Court, demanding payment for unpaid wages, violations of minimum wage, overtime and holiday wage regulations, and compensation for occupational deaths and accidents. MAP has two experienced lawyers on staff and works with a network of labour lawyers as well to assist migrant workers receive free legal representation when needed.
Union membership and the right to collective bargaining are recognized means for workers to assert and seek protection of rights themselves. The Workplace Justice Project also works to ensure that the freedom of assembly and the right to organize are respected for migrant workers. MAP holds monthly labour exchanges for communities to share their experiences as well as develop skills and strategize ways to tackle the challenges they face. We support two migrant workers associations, the Workers Solidarity Association (WSA) in Chiang Mai and Yaung Chi Oo Worker?s Association in Mae Sot as well as two community centres in Phang-Nga province with administrative and strategic support, striving to empower and enhance the capacity of the community. We are working to create a stronger relationship between Thai labour and migrant worker associations and ensure that the issues of migrant workers are adequately represented. Our goal is promote membership of migrant workers in unions and amend the labour relations act so that migrants can form unions and hold seats on the executive committees.
Case in Spotlight: BB Top Factory, Mae Sot
MAP Foundation has filed two lawsuits against the garment factory BBTop, representing the interests of nearly 178 workers for unpaid wages and violations of the Labour Protection Act (LPA). In one case, 40 workers were considered by the Labour Protection Office (LPO) to be "piece workers" and thus did not meet the definition of an employee entitled to protection under the LPA . Many migrant workers are paid by "the piece" and it would be an easy route for employers to avoid liability under the Labour Protection Act. However, MAP appealed to the Labour Court who cancelled the LPO order, allowing the workers to fight for their wages. The Labour Protection Office then appealed the Labour Court's ruling to the Court of the Appeals, but the Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the workers again. This case is an important victory for migrant workers to be able to receive the full protection under the Labour Protection Act. The workers are now filing suit against the employer to receive nearly 2 million THB in unpaid wages.
Domestic workers face unique challenges in asserting their labour rights: isolation of working with employer's home, inherent gender discrimination associated with domestic work, and overcoming the dominant mentality that domestic work does not constitute work. The Labour Rights for All Programme has a specialized campaign on behalf of domestic workers, performing targeted outreach, holding a monthly domestic worker exchange, and organizing regular campaign events to raise public awareness and lobby the government. Additionally the Domestic Worker Campaign collaborates with regional and international efforts to fight in the worldwide struggle to earn respect of the labour rights of domestic workers.
Our latest campaign is using postcards to demonstrate the number of domestic workers to the Ministry of Labour and fight for legislation to guarantee domestic workers the right to one paid day of leave every week.
In order to promote the occupational safety and health for workers, we perform weekly outreach to new sites, train focal points within communities, hold educational workshops, and set up community centres in migrant worker communities.
We seek to educate migrants on the benefits of using personal protective equipment and the need to maintain safety at the workplace, empower them to demand employer's compliance with safety standards, facilitate access to the legal remedies for occupational accidents and deaths, and campaign for the inclusion of migrants in the social security system.
To raise awareness of the hazards at work and to motivate discussions and action, migrants suggested that MAP present occupational safety and health issues in a fun and accessible way. In response, we created an animated cartoon called "The POSH Worker" to show not only the dangers, but how workers can join together collectively to improve safety in the workplace. Check it out on YouTube or contact MAP to request a DVD. A training manual on activities for NGO's and workers groups is being formalized now and will be available in English, Shan and Burmese.
Promotion Occupation Safety and Health
MAP continues to Support Migrant Activities in Phang Nga
Written by MAP
Saturday, 11 September 2010 08:26
After one year as working as TAG, the various members decided to continue activities under the separate organizations according to their areas of expertise.
MAP organized women exchange meetings, labour exchange meetings, provided information to migrants about registration policies and laws via written media and through a community radio program and provided legal assistance in labour and criminal cases. After working in the South for 4 years MAP decided to close the office but to continue supporting migrants in the area to run their own activities.
Together with TACDB, MAP supports migrants to run two libraries at Ban Nafak and Ban Tong Lark. These libraries are resource centres for the migrants to find information, relax and share. Each library also has a computer with internet access so that migrants can keep in touch and can also listen to MAP Community radio stations from Chiang Mai and Mae Sot. Also Migrants can listen the BBC, VOA, RFA on line and sharing the news to other migrants keep up to date current situation in Burma.
The migrants in the area continue to hold labour and women exchanges which give them a chance to share experiences with other migrants and to monitor the situation and to keep up to date with current policy changes.
The migrants have organized themselves into membership groupings with the aim to provide assistance to their colleagues in difficult times and to be able to negotiate for better working conditions.