Myanmar workers arrive debt-laden in Thailand
ThailandMigrant worker abuse Myanmar workers arrive debt-laden in Thailand
A 'mafia' of recruitment brokers is trapping Myanmar citizens seeking to work in Thailand in debt bondage despite a 2017 law meant to fight exploitation and abuse in the kingdom's notorious job marketBangkok, October 7, 2018 10:38 AM (UTC+8) Job brokers target Myanmar citizens such as Ma Htuwey, seen at the Migrant Worker Rights Network in Samut Sakhon last month. Many workers who go to Thailand are trapped in debt bondage despite a 2017 law meant to fight such abuse. Photo: AFP / Lillian Suwanrumpha
A âmafiaâ of recruitment agents is trapping Myanmar citizens seeking to work in Thailand in debt bondage despite a 2017 law meant to fight exploitation in the kingdomâs notoriously shadowy job market, activists and workers say.
Migrant labor â" much of it from Myanmar â" has propped up Thailandâs economy for years, with foreigners working everywhere from factories to fishing boats, part of a global chain to produce standard supermarket items such as frozen shrimp, ready meals and pet food.The dailyReport Must-reads from across Asia - directly to your inbox
After allegations of slave labor and trafficking prompted the European Union to threaten a ban on Thai products in 2015, the kingdomâs ruling junta has scrambled to clean up industries reliant on a migrant wo rkforce.
A new law that came into force in July last year was meant to crack down on a shady recruitment process, which left desperate migrants vulnerable to corrupt brokers and exploitative companies.
But more than a year later, foreign workers and labor experts say a lack of enforcement and government oversight means migrants are no safer, often shelling out hundreds of dollars in inflated fees to agents and ending up in debt even before they even secure a job.
Although the legislation says Myanmar migrants should pay no more than 150,000 kyat ($100) in fees to agents, many end up paying up to $800, a colossal sum for low-paid workers from one of the most impoverished countries in the world.
âThe agents took advantage of us,â said 40-year-old Ma Oo, who had to pay $400 for a job in an electronics factory near Bangkok and was visibly scared to speak out.
Thai firms usually hire local agents to scout workers fro m neighboring Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, although the latter is by far the largest source for labor, with more than two million migrants working in Thailand.
But in many cases, Thai agents then auction off the jobs to the highest bidder among their Myanmar peers clamoring for business in a highly-competitive market, activists say.
The Myanmar brokers â" or their sub-agents â" scour rural villages for workers and transfer all the extra costs to them, leaving migrants trapped in âdebt bondageâ as they struggle to pay the exorbitant fees, says migrant labor specialist Andy Hall.
Thai and Myanmar agents collaborate as âa real mafia that makes a lot of money on the backs of migrant workersâ, explains Aung Kyaw, president of the Migrant Workers Rights Network in Thailand, which acts as a de facto union.
The situation is even worse, he says, for the several hundred thousand Myanmar migrants working unregistered, who are even more vulnerable.
In one ongoing case, a family â" including two children â" was trafficked into the kingdom and forced into slavery on a fishing boat, beaten, unpaid and their documents confiscated.
Thai authorities insist that they maintain strict oversight of the countryâs agents and threaten them with stiff penalties if they do not respect the law. If there are problems, âthey may be on the side of the Burmese recruitersâ, Anurak Tossarat from the Ministry of Labour said.
But agents in Myanmar blame their Thai peers for stoking the illegal trade and demanding kickbacks in exchange for jobs.
â[We] have to fight to get job offers from Thai agencies. The more money you give them, the more offers your agency gets,â an agent in Yangon told AFP on condition of anonymity.Myanmar workers prepare a fishing boat in the Thai coastal province of Samut Sakhon. Photo: AFP / Lillian Suwanrumpha
Campaigners urge tighter scrutiny by officials in both countries and up the supply chain to the multinational buyers of Thai produce, to bring an end to the exploitative practices.
Britainâs biggest retailer Tesco, food giant Nestle and chocolate maker Mars â" which all source products in Thailand â" said they were working with local partners to improve practices, vowing to probe any allegations of wrongdoing.
Despite the extortionate fees and the threat of debt, each month around 15,000 people from Myanmar cross into Thailand to take up jobs.
In a Yangon teashop, Kyaw Naing, 24, said he had already handed over a thick wad of cash to an agent who had promised him work.
âI had to borrow money from my family with interest but I will pay it back if my job is good,â he says, adding that the agent assured him Thailandâs new law means he will now be âmore secureâ.
â" report by Agence France-Pressecontinue readingSource: Google News Thailand | Netizen 24 Thailand