Friday, August 28, 2009

Economic Crisis Hits Burmese Migrant Women

LABOUR-THAILAND: Economic Crisis Hits Burmese Migrant Women

By Marwaan Macan-Markar

BANGKOK, Aug 28 (IPS) - The global financial crisis is threatening to shred the dreams of thousands of women from Burma, who have fled their military-ruled country over the past decade for better jobs in more prosperous Thailand, say activists.

Mae Sot, a town along the Thai-Burma border that has been a magnet for female migrant workers, is one area where this pain is being felt, they add. Ongoing conflicts between the military and ethnic groups and a depressed economy in Burma, also known as Myanmar, are among the reasons behind such flight across the border.

"There is growing worry among these women that they will not be able to remit part of their earnings to their families in Burma," says Jackie Pollock, director of the Migrant Action Programme, a group lobbying for migrants’ rights in Thailand. "Entire families depend on such remittances, which are about 2,500 baht (about 75 U.S. dollars) every quarter."

She expects this predicament to worsen as the crisis, which has resulted in the drying up of export markets in the United States, unfolds in the months ahead. "It is just starting to hit them. The families in Burma are living off what was saved from last year’s remittances."

This economic downturn is squeezing a female labour force that is already being discriminated against by the factory owners, mostly Thais, who refuse to pay the daily minimum wage. The Burmese women who labour for hours behind sewing machines get between 60 and 80 baht a day, whereas the minimum wage set out by the Thai state for Mae Sot is 151 baht (4.57 U.S. dollars) a day.

These women make up the predominant labour force in the nearly 300 export-oriented textile and garment factories in Mae Sot, reveals a report launched Friday in Bangkok. Each factory employs 100 to 1,000 workers, while "about another 200 unregistered ‘home factories’ would employ between five and 20 workers," says the report.

This female labour force is part of the estimated 300,000 Burmese migrant workers in Mae Sot, which also provides work in other areas. That includes jobs in agriculture, construction, domestic work, call centres, the entertainment industry and on garbage sites.

In all these fields of labour, "women are shouldering a disproportionate burden," says Soe Lin Aung, co-author of the 48-page report, ‘Critical Times – Migrants and the Economy in Chiang Mai and Mae Sot’. "A substantial number of women we surveyed – 43 percent – reported a drop in their incomes."

"Knitting factories, which produce warm clothing largely for very hard-hit U.S. and European markets, are said to be struggling disproportionately, with demand dropping steeply," states the report. "The local chapter of the Federation of Thai Industries claims that orders have dropped by 12 percent, and ‘the talk,’ as one report puts it, is overwhelming layoffs, reduced working hours and increased difficulty finding new jobs."

Currently, the average monthly income for a worker in such factories hovers close to 2,500 baht, with only regular shifts available. Yet "at this time last year, which is a relatively high season, a knitting factory employee might have made 6,000 baht (182 U.S. dollars) a month, while a garment factory worker would have made a bit more than 3,000 baht, including overtime hours," adds the report.

"I can’t support my parents because I’m not in a good job situation. My brother and sister are also not okay – they also can’t support with any money," says one female migrant worker interviewed for the report.

The money sent home by the migrant workers has become a vital lifeline for the families they have left behind, most of whom are elderly fathers and mothers and children too young to work.

"Over 30 people have come to work in Thailand from my village," says Deng Lungjong, who works in the northern city of Chiang Mai, another magnet for Burmese women in search of jobs.

"There are six people in my village that are depending on the money I remit home," the 26-year-old said in an interview. "Earlier I could remit money four times a year; now I can only send twice a year."

The migrant workers in Mae Sot and Chiang Mai are among an estimated two million registered and unregistered migrant workers from Burma, Cambodia and Laos in Thailand. They labour in work described by labour rights groups as "dirty, dangerous and difficult." The majority of them – over one million – are from Burma.

The plight of the migrant workers in Mae Sot – or other parts of Thailand feeling the economic pain – hardly surprises the International Labour Organisation (ILO). "All too often migrant workers in poorly visible categories of work tend to be the shock absorbers during an economic downturn," says Tim De Meyer, labour standards specialist at the Bangkok-based Asia office of the ILO.

In fact, the Geneva-based body did have the female migrant workers from Burma in mind when it said earlier this year that the current economic meltdown has a "woman’s face," since women laborers are affected more severely, and differently, compared to their male counterparts.

In the Asia-Pacific region, the ILO projected that as many as 27 more people could become unemployed, pushing the total number of people in the region without jobs to 112.2 million.

And hit taken by women in this dire picture stems from the work they do: often in labour-intensive export industries like the ones in Mae Sot.

It was a similar scenario that played out a decade ago, when South-east Asia was hit by the 1997 financial crisis, decimating once vibrant, export-driven economies. In Thailand, for instance, 95 percent of the workers laid off from the garment sector were women, according to the ILO.

But despite such a reality repeating itself in places like Mae Sot, the female migrants from Burma are reluctant to return home. "While the situation may be getting bad here, the situation is worse in Burma," says Deng, who have been working in Thailand for 10 years. "My family at home has only me to depend on." (END/2009)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

2nd ASEAN Forum on Migrant Labour;It’s time for ASEAN to protect all migrants in Region!

2nd ASEAN Forum on Migrant labour

July 30-31 2009, Grande Sukhumvit Hotel, Bangkok,Thailand

The Thai government(vide the Ministry of Labour), the chair of the committee on the implementation of the ASEAN Declaration on the protection and promotion of the rights of migrant workers (ACMW), convened the forum whose purpose was being an open platform for discussion and exchanging of views and ideas amongst the different stakeholders on the labour migration issue. The recommendations and suggestions from this forum will be communicated to the ACMW as inputs for consideration. The ACMW has appointed and designated a drafting committee from within its ranks to draft the regional instrument. This drafting committee is made up of 2 sending and 2 receiving countries.(I.e. Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand)


The Forum was officially opened by H.E. Phaithoon Kaeothong, Minister of Labour of Thailand.

Presentation by Ms Thetis (ILO) on the ASEAN Migration: An Overview. It covered also the issue of irregular migration, which was perceived as one of the challenges.

In the afternoon, there were two parallel Sessions

Panel one: ASEAN Stakeholders: what should be their role? By MAP Foundation (By Jackie Pollock) and UNI-Apro( Christopher Ng )

Panel two: The regional instrument: How to move forward? By Task Force on ASEAN Migrant workers (Sammy)

After the speaker presentations, there was group work, and the outcome of group sessions were reported the morning of second day

Highlights of issue and process:

Irregular migration:

In both panel discussions, CSO managed to get the raise the issue that undocumented migrants should be covered by the final Instrument.

In panel one, we said to cover all migrants irrespective of legal status (i.e. referring also to the ASEAN member states’ commitment as per the 1999 Bangkok Declaration on irregular migration). In panel one; they were representatives of Ministry of labour from Indonesia, Philippines, Lao PDR, Vietnam and Malaysia. In panel two, it was suggested that the Instrument covers all migrant workers, and this would naturally include their families. It should cover all migrants, regardless of immigration status, and regardless of place of origin.

In the plenary discussions of second day:

· Migrant workers and their families as well as their organizations and communities are main stakeholders and need the recognition of they are part of CSO. It sparked the objection from Ministry of Human resources from Malaysia since they are not agreeable that migrants are part of civil society.The discussion went on to suggest that we should refer to and be consistent with the ASEAN Declaration 2007, ASEAN GATS, ASEAN Charter and other ASEAN instruments.

· Also other countries who are signatories to IMWC (1990) stated that the convention is clear as to who is covered, and the ASEAN Instrument must be in line with this UN Convention. The ASEAN Instrument must include families, but since it is expected to be subject to current national law and policies. The inclusion of families is really a matter for future lobbying for the harmonization of the ASEAN Instrument with national laws.

Mekong Migration Network (MMN) addressed the issue of equality of person before the law, as reflected in Malaysia’s Federal Constitution, and the challenges of state on which law they will use to interpret when it comes to labour migration.

The Network of Action for Migrants in Malaysia (NAMM) addressed issue of restrictive conditions on work permits and the current discrimination between different type/classes of migrant workers in Malaysia. In Malaysia, whilst certain categories of migrant workers not only cannot bring their families with them, cannot event marry whilst they are in Malaysia under work permits – there are other migrant workers where these restrictions do not apply? Clearly a case of discrimination – contrary to Malaysian Constitution.

Gender: Forum have consensus on importance of the gender aspect of migration and in particular the need for the recognition women’s work as work otherwise it will be continued to be seen as a women’s duty and thus not protected by labour laws.

Standard contract: Malaysian Trade union congress (MTUC) addressed issue of concerns on sign the standard contract which will not be enforceable in country of destination.[This, it matters not where a contract has been entered for it to be enforceable in any country] NAMM provided comments on the Importance that standard agreements do not prevent workers from enjoying better rights that may already exist in national laws, and in collective agreements between employers and trade unions.

The meeting also purposes that the final instrument be legally binding.

The drafting committee was also urged to consider and use the proposals & recommendations from ASEAN Task Force on Migrant Workers, which is a result of numerous national and regional consultations.

The proposed regional instrument should also meet the fundamental human rights and labour standards, as is contained in UN and ILO conventions.

There was also the proposal to set up a Sub-Commission for Migrant Workers (SCMW) under the ASEAN Inter-Government Commission for Human Rights (AIGCHR).

Mekong Migration Network (MMN) representative addressed and requested the clarification on the process of involvement of CSO in 3rd ASEAN Forum on Migrant Labor (suggested to the host country – Vietnam).

We stated that we appreciated that the Thai government invited CSO personalities to be resource persons on the panel, and CSO as participants in this Forum and we hope this will also be case for the next meeting in Vietnam. ASEAN secretariat representative openly agreed with this, but stated that it was up to the host country to determine the lists of invitees and ILO suggested making the recommendations from this forum.


2nd ASEAN Forum on Migrant Labour
Bangkok, 30-31 July 2009

An ASEAN forum currently taking place in Bangkok is expected to come up with a set of recommendations on regional migrant labour issues including on how to proceed further with the ASEAN instrument on migrant workers.

The 2nd ASEAN Forum on Migrant Labour bring together governmental agencies, civil society organisations from all over Southeast Asia, and international organisations including the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). by the Ministry of Labour of Thailand, the Forum is a regular activity under the ASEAN Committee on the Implementation of the ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers (ACMW) and aims to be a platform for broad-based discussions on migrant labour issues.

With the theme “ASEAN Declaration on Migrant Workers: Achieving its Commitment”, the Forum was officially opened by H.E. Phaithoon Kaeothong, Minister of Labour of Thailand.

Various guest speakers will share their views and discuss the roles of different stakeholders in ASEAN and moving forward on the ASEAN instrument.

The Forum will come up with a set of recommendations to be presented at the 2nd Meeting of the ACMW to be held in September 2009.

Posted on 31 Jul 2009