Thailand and Myanmar boost cross-border cooperation on migrant labour

Author: Thomas Maresca | Date: 27 Jul 2016

Millions of workers from Myanmar set to be protected under Thai labour law

Myanmar’s state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi has signed a series of agreements on migrant labour and cross-border cooperation with her Thai counterparts.
The three pacts – Agreement on Cross Border between Thailand and Myanmar; a Memorandum of Understanding on Labour Cooperation; and an Agreement on Employment of Workers – will help to regulate and offer legal protections and other services to the enormous and often exploited Myanmar-born labour force in Thailand.
Estimates of the number of migrant workers in Thailand vary, but they comprise a significant portion of the overall labour force. A March 2016 briefing from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) placed the number of migrant workers at 3.5 million, or nine per cent of the total workforce, with the overwhelming majority of these from Myanmar.
Myanmar has a population of 53 million and its GDP per head in 2015 was USD 1,203, compared to Thailand’s USD 5,816. Of more than one million migrants that had completed nationality verification, 86 per cent were from Myanmar, according to the ILO briefing.
As part of the draft MoU on Labour Cooperation, the governments of Thailand and Myanmar will boost cooperation in developing workplace skills and domestic employment policy. The draft employment agreement will expand bilateral labour exchange cooperation, helping Thai employers recruit workers. It says Myanmarese workers will be protected by Thai labour laws, but they must also comply with this legislation when employed in Thailand.
“On the protection and the promotion of basic rights of Myanmar migrant workers in Thailand, we both agreed that Thai private sectors and Myanmar migrant workers are highly interdependent,” said General Prayuth Chan-o-cha, Prime Minister of Thailand’s military government. “So far, the Thai government has made utmost effort to take good care of Myanmar migrant workers. Nowadays, Myanmar people in Thailand enjoy the same basic rights, welfare and protection in accordance with Thai laws and regulations as the Thai nationals and have access to basic education and healthcare,” he added.
Other initiatives included opening training centres along Thai-Myanmar border areas to orient Myanmar’s migrant workers on their way into or out of the country. The Thai government will also open ‘one-stop’ service centres for migrant workers in 10 provinces.
Thailand has suffered international criticism for slavery, trafficking and exploitation in its migrant labour work force, particularly in its fishery industry, and has begun to strengthen and enforce laws on illegal labourers, especially to tackle human trafficking.
Some migrant worker rights activists have praised efforts by the Thai government to improve conditions and legal rights, but cautioned that most of these programmes had yet to be implemented.
"There's a lot of movement at the moment, and certainly the kind of things we’re hearing from the Ministry of Labour about how they're going to combat these migrant worker abuses are quite progressive and original,” says Andy Hall, international affairs advisor at the Migrant Worker Rights Network. “There's a lot of things being talked about but they haven't been implemented yet. It's only now that [the Thai authorities] are starting to get serious about these issues. It's going to take a long time.”
Hall adds that many problems have their source in Myanmar as well. In remarks during her visit, Aung San Suu Kyi pointed to the need for Myanmar to develop better jobs to keep more workers at home.
“Job creation is of the greatest importance for the country,” she said. “On every trip I have been on in Myanmar, people talk about the need for jobs. Our people want work. They don’t want charity. They want to have the opportunity of standing on their own two feet and feeling proud,” she said.