Labour Rights for All

The Labour Rights for All Programme assists migrants in redressing labour exploitation through rights education, informal collective bargaining, accessing the legal system and campaigning for policies for greater protection of their rights.

About the Issue

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.

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