Labour unions take rights fight to ILO

Labour activists are to petition the International Labour Organisation today over Thailand's alleged continuing failure to protect the rights of Burmese migrant workers.

The complaint will be handed to Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry, the Geneva-based ILO's director of International Labour Standards Department, by Sawit Kaewwan, head of the State Enterprise Workers Relations Confederation (SERC).

Sawit: employers can’t be trusted

The petition claims the government's proposal to require each migrant worker to buy a 500 baht medical insurance policy from private firms is discriminatory.

Mr Sawit, who is in Geneva this week, will also submit over 500 pages of supporting documents to explain how the proposal, which denies Burmese migrants access to the Social Security Office's Workmen's Compensation Fund (WCF), systematically discriminates against Burmese migrants in Thailand.

The SERC is an umbrella body of 43 state enterprise unions representing more than 170,000 members and affiliated to the International Trade Union Confederation.

Since 2009, it has raised the issue of the government's double standards regarding domestic and migrant workers with the ILO Committee of Experts.

Last year, the Committee of Experts and UN Special Rapporteurs on Migrants and Discrimination also urged the government to review the Social Security Office's 2001 regulation barring all migrants direct access to the Workmen's Compensation Fund (WCF).

Instead, the Labour Ministry will tomorrow request the cabinet to approve the setting up of a separate insurance scheme for migrant labourers.

Mr Sawit said the ministry's plan is less beneficial, vague and ill-thought out.

The SERC said the policy to deny migrants access to the WCF has severely affected an estimated 2-3 million Burmese migrants.

Employers cannot be trusted to provide health and safety protection for migrant labourers, Mr Sawit said.

In many cases reported to the SERC, if there is a workplace accident the employer runs away or even asks the police to arrest the employee.

"It is time all migrants were given the same protection when injured on the job as Thai workers," Mr Sawit said.

The government insists legal migrant workers from Burma who completed a National Verification (NV) process can access the WCF.

However, Mr Sawit said these workers only have temporary passports and are not eligible for compensation.

He added most migrants were smuggled into the country and never complete the complex, non-transparent and expensive NV process.

Thailand's plan which requires migrant workers to buy insurance coverage from private firms is based on Malaysia's system. However, international labour advocates have criticised the move as a breach of the Equality of Treatment Convention.
About the author

Writer:  Achara Ashayagachat

Position: Reporter