Monday, 30 December 2013

News roundup (Nov - Dec 2013)

Round-up of news on Myanmar workers from November - December 2013.

Fraud, corruption, extortion

Registration, passports, work permits

General migrant rights advocacy


Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Eleven Media: Myanmar workers in Thailand earning under minimum wage

Eleven Media reports:
Many Myanmar migrants working in Thailand are earning less than the minimum wage of BHT 300 a day (US$ 10), according to the Education and Development Foundation. "Thai government set the minimum wage at BHT 300 a day, but many Myanmar workers are getting paid below that level. Some are even ill-treated by the managers and employers," said Htoo Chit, advisor to The Education and Development Foundation. There are still hundreds of thousands of undocumented Myanmar workers in Thailand. Most of them work on rubber plantations and fishery businesses in Thailand, and they are the ones who suffer most from low wages. "I worked in Thailand for five years. I had never earned BHT 300 a day until I returned here last month. I worked on a fishing boat. I don’t have any plan to go there again," said Hla Oo, a Myanmar national from Taninthayi Region who once worked in Thailand. The neighbouring countries are seeking solutions on the issue of undocumented migrant workers in Thailand. Many were issued temporary passports last year. Some Myanmar workers who legally came in Thailand through overseas job agencies are also exposed to unfair treatment and exploitation, Htoo Chit added. "We heard some Myanmar workers who are legally working in Thailand are not paid the minimum wages. I think the workers should make sure what the salary is before they go and work in Thailand. Maybe some expenses for the workers are cut from their salaries. To sort out such problems, the two governments should cooperate,” said Ohnmar Eichaw from the United Nations Inter-Agency Project.

The Irrawaddy: Burmese Embassy Raises Migrant Worker Issues With Thailand

The Irrawaddy reports:
The Burmese ambassador to Thailand on Wednesday spoke up for migrant workers in a meeting with a senior Thai Ministry of Interior official, according to an embassy official. Labor rights activists have for a long time alleged widespread labor exploitation, extortion by Thai police and human trafficking of migrant workers, hundreds of thousands of whom cross the border from Burma in search of higher wages... The ambassador also talked about the issue of Thai police arbitrarily arresting or asking for money from documented Burmese migrants in some places of Thailand, he said.The Burmese Embassy in Bangkok has attempted to intervene on labor rights violations since the President Thein Sein took office in 2011, the attaché said... But migrant workers are reportedly still been preyed upon by unscrupulous agents or middlemen, as well as the Thai police, despite having legal documents, obtained under a 2009 scheme named the National Verification Process and Issuance of Temporary Passport... Ma Khine, a migrant worker who recently traveled from Bangkok back to Burma last month, told The Irrawaddy that even though she has all the necessary documents—a temporary passport and valid work permit—she still had problems traveling. She said Thai police at a checkpoint between Bangkok and the Mae Sot border crossing asked her to pay 100 baht (US$3.20) as “tea money”—a term understood to mean a bribe. “I did not want any trouble, so I paid when I was stopped at two out of five checkpoints along the Bangkok-Mae Sot road,” Mai Kine said.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Mizzima: Wait continues for specification of new minimum wage

Mizzima reports:
U Myo Aung, Director-General of the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Welfare, told Mizzima that it is hard to estimate when the new minimum wage for Myanmar workers will be announced.

DVB: Burmese migrant group files formal complaint against Thai police

DVB reports:
A Burmese human rights organisation has filed what is claimed to be the first ever formal complaint against Thai police for their alleged role in extorting Burmese migrant workers in Thailand.

Weekly Eeven: Eighty percent of Myanmar workers in Thailand losing labour rights

Eleven Media reports:
About 80 per cent of Myanmar workers in Thailand with MoU documentation are still losing their labour rights, a Thailand-based migrant workers’ rights activist told a workshop held at Judson Hall in Yangon. Despite a treaty between Myanmar and Thailand, Myanmar workers do not enjoy the rights of minimum wage, workplace conditions or even the types of jobs included in the agreement, said Sein Htay of the Migrant Workers’ Rights Network. “They go to work in Thailand officially but most of their salaries and jobs are not the same as stated in the agreement. Some have been sent to Thailand by an agency but without having a job arranged first. Another setback for legal workers is that contracts with their employers do not allow them to change their jobs,” he said. “The agents from Myanmar are not making contact with the employers in Thailand, and they are sending workers through brokers from Thailand. So they can’t do anything if a worker faces a problem,” he said. “We know some agencies who have repeatedly signed pledges to assist workers who report problems but then do nothing. Some don’t even care if their agent licence gets revoked—as long as they continue to make money and can get away with cheating.”

Friday, 18 October 2013

Myanmar Times: Lawyer to form party for farmers, workers

"Lawyer to form party for farmers, workers," Myanmar Times, 29 September 2013.

Updates on labour organising in Myanmar

Article on ongoing labour organising work in Myanmar:

"Worker organisations still struggle for rights," Myanmar Times, 10 October 2013.

Updates on migrants passports and work permits

"Myanmar migrant workers to receive two-year work visas in Thailand," Eleven News, 15 October 2013.

"Migrants to start receiving regular passports," The Irrawaddy, 16 October 2013.

On labour conditions in Myanmar's jade mines

Articles on conditions at Jade mines in Myanmar:

"Myanmar suffers from curse of the jade scorpion," Financial Review, 4 October 2013.

"Myanmar's Jade Trade, A Lucrative But Deadly, HIV-ridden Industry," International Business Times, 27 September 2013.

Migrants in the Thai fishing industry

On migrants in the Thai fishing industry:

"Ten dead Myanmar migrants found off Thai coast", AFP via Channel News Asia, 14 October 2013.

"DSI helps forced labour in Thai fishery industry," National News Bureau of Thailand, 10 October 2013.

"Thais profit from US$10 Myanmar and Cambodian slaves running US$7b fishing business," The Standard, 18 October 2013.

"Burmese ‘Slave Labor’ Continues in Thailand, Despite Bangkok Promises, The Irrawaddy, 26 September 2013.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Bangkok Post: Myanmar workers 'faked' passports

The Bangkok Post reports:
Three Myanmar workers have been arrested with fake passports at a border checkpoint in Mae Sot district, after an immigration official noticed them looking nervous and had their documents examined using a passport authentication device. Three Myanmar workers have been arrested with fake passports, after an immigration official noticed them looking nervous and had their documents examined. Photo by Wassayos Ngamkham The suspects included a man identified as Miew Oo, 37, and two 17-year-old girls. It was the first time migrant workers from Myanmar had been caught using forged travel documents, Tak immigration chief Pol Col Pongnakhon Nakhonsantiparp said. The page containing the photo and personal information of the passport holders in each of the seized passports was forged, but other parts of the documents were authentic. Pol Col Pongnakhon said he believed the fake passports were produced in Thailand and sold to Myanmar labourers. Miew Oo allegedly confessed that he bought the passports for 16,000 baht from a man known only as Kotoon in Myawaddy, the Myanmar border town opposite Mae Sot. He said he waited for eight days to get the documents. Myanmar police jointly questioned the suspects with Thai authorities and reported the incident to officials in Nay Pyi Daw. Police would investigate further to find those behind the production of the fake passports, with the help of their Myanmar counterparts, Pol Col Pongnakhon said.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

On factory work and factory workers in Myanmar

Articles about factory work and factory workers in Myanmar:

Round-up of news on Myanmar migrants in Thailand (August - September 2013)

Round-up of news on Myanmar migrants in Thailand (August - September 2013)

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Myanmar Times: Myanmar workers face expiration of work visas

The Myanmar Times reports
Myanmar migrant workers in Thailand, many of whom have been working legally in the country for decades, are facing an uncertain future in the coming weeks as their 4-year work visas expire.

Saudi Arabia in bring in Myanmar migrants

The Saudi news outlet Arab News reports:
The Permanent Committee for rectifying the status of Burmese workers in the Kingdom is waiting for final approval of the Ministry of Interior to hand over the sponsorship of 40,000 Burmese workers to a national recruitment company.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

The Irrawaddy: Group Calls for Overhaul of Repressive, Antiquated Prostitution Law

The Irrawaddy reports:
A sex workers’ rights group is calling on Burma’s government to reform a 60-year-old prostitution law in order to decriminalize the practice, end harassment of sex workers and provide them with better health care access.

Eleven Media: Myanmar migrants suffer low wages in Thailand

Eleven Media reports on Myanmar's Deputy of Labour acknowledging under page and poor working conditions for Myanmar migrants in Thailand.

Most of the 3 million Myanmar migrant workers living in Thailand receive lower than the minimum wage and work in unsafe environments, Myanmar's Deputy Minister for Labour told a workshop on August 1.
The Irrawaddy reports on a garment workers' strike in Hlaing Thar Yar:
Dozens of Burmese garment workers have been barred from returning to work after calling on their employer to pay them 70,000 kyats (US$70) monthly, as promised. 

Eleven Media: Update on Myanmar's minimum wage

Eleven Media reports:
Minister Htin Aung announced that the Ministry for Labour, Employment and Social Security will assign a minimum wage in accordance to work field and employment sectors.
The Minister was replying to the queries of Hpaan MP Nan Say Aur during a parliamentary meeting on August 5. The Minister then replied that minimum wage bill was issued on June 4 and requires the names of employers and representatives of labour organisation to form a National Committee, which will be tasked with informing the public. If there are objections, the minimum wage rate will be determined by the government through a decree.

Bloomberg: China Factories Turn to Undocumented Labor as Local Wages Jump

Bloomberg News reports on Chinese factories employing Myanmar workers.
China’s embrace of higher wages to help bolster consumer spending has sparked a jump in factories along the east-coast export corridor bringing in undocumented and lower-paid workers from Myanmar and Vietnam.
Border police found 59 illegal immigrants from Vietnam in a bus heading for the Pearl River Delta on July 29, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Aug. 6. “Thousands” of workers from Vietnam and Myanmar were discovered working illegally in Shenzhen between 2010 and 2012, the state-run China News Service reported, citing a local prosecutor.

Eleven Media: Myanmar workers face discrimination at Dawei SEZ project

Eleven Media reports on wage differentials at the Dawei SEZ:
Local workers have been facing discrimination while working at the Dawei Special Economic Zone project compared to Thai workers, local workers say.

On the post violence return of Myanmar migrants to Malaysia

Recent reports on the return of Myanmar migrants to work in Malaysia:

"Myanmar workers flock to Malaysia," Myanmar Times, 2 August 2013
"Labor Migration to Malaysia to Resume," The Irrawaddy, 1 August 2013
"Recruitment agencies to send workers to Malaysia again," Mizzima News, 31 July 2013

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

The Myanmar Times: Business leaders promote workers' rights

The Myanmar Times reports:
The Myanmar Women’s Entrepreneur Association has launched a code of conduct intended to reduce disputes and friction between employers and employees as well as promote workers’ rights.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Myanmar Times: Raw deal for Myanmar's seamen

The Myanmar Times reports:
Myanmar sailors say they are being forced out of work by corrupt agents and brokers who get unqualified workers low-paying jobs on foreign vessels.

The OECD on Myanmar reforms

The International Business Times reports:
The proportion of Myanmar’s working-age population may soon begin to decline, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), just when the country, after transitioning to a more democratic government, is on the precipice of rapid economic development with recent inflow of foreign investment and concentrated effort to improve its infrastructure.

Thai government extends migrant registration deadline

The National News Bureau of Thailand reports:
The Ministry of Labour is extending a deadline for undocumented migrant workers to become legal by 1 year.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

DVB: Migrant schools face closure amid funding cuts

DVB reports:
More than two dozen migrant schools in western Thailand face closure as international donors continue to slash funding for groups on the Thai-Burma border, a local NGO has warned.

Phuket Wan: Arrest of Burmese Sex Workers Complicates Life at Shelter

The Phuket Wan reports:
Ten young Burmese women, six of them underage, have been arrested in raids on a floating sex farm and a land-based brothel north of Phuket, Phuketwan has learned.

Myanmar migrants "suspected of torching factory"

The Nation reports:
Foreign workers suspected of torching factory

Forensic police are pouring over the remains of a Saha Farms chicken processing plant in Lop Buri that was destroyed by a suspicious blaze that broke out late Saturday night.

"The inspection results would be known in a few days," Pol Lt Charnwut Ruengjab, who was working on the case, said yesterday.

While local police and provincial authorities have refused to comment on possible causes, migrant workers have been frustrated by the non-payment of their daily wages for two months.

Increased demand for (and migration of) Myanmar workers to Thailand

The Irrawaddy reports:
Thai demand for Burmese migrant workers is on the rise and the Federation of Overseas Employment Agencies has received requests to send 5,000 migrant workers per month to Thailand, up from 3,000 workers in previous months, Eleven Media reports. Workers sent through a Burmese labor agency are supposed to earn a daily wage of US $10, but often they are paid less, as Thai employers try to recoup transport, visa and other costs of bringing in a worker. The federation’s chairman Ming Hlaing said workers “have to repay 1,000 baht [$30] per month from their salaries for 10 months. But the employers take more than the amount which is agreed upon in the contract.”
Eleven Media reports:
The number of Myanmar migrant workers going to Thailand has significantly increased during these months despite unfair payment there, according to sources from overseas employment agencies. The Federation of Overseas Employment Agencies said employers from Thailand has also increased asking for more workers from Myanmar, requesting over 5000 workers a month now. They previously had asked for 3,000 workers a month.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

The Irrawaddy: Japanese Firm Closes China Factories, Relocates to Cheaper Rangoon

The Irrawaddy's Burma Business Roundup reports:
Japan is gearing up to make Burma the new sweatshop of Asia, said a report by The Economist citing the case of Famoso Clothing, which is closing its factories in China and moving operations to Rangoon.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

The Irrawaddy: Thai Police in Chiang Mai Arrest 200 Burmese Migrant Workers

The Irrawaddy reports:
Authorities in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, have been rounding up more than 200 Burmese migrant workers on allegations that they are involved in crimes or lack legal permits to stay in the country.
Migrant rights groups complain however, that Thai authorities have started a major crackdown on registered or unregistered Burmese migrants.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Protests against labour brokers in Myawaddy

The Irrawaddy reports on recent protests against labour brokerage companies in Myawaddy, over delays in processing the MoU passports for migrants to work in Thailand.

"Myawaddy's first worker protest," The Irrawaddy, 28 June 2013

Monday, 1 July 2013

France 24: Rampant child labour in Burma

France 24 reports on child labour in Myanmar:
In Burma, it is not at all unusual for a child to serve you tea at a café. Child labour remains a major problem in the country, even as it opens up to the rest of the world. 

Monday, 24 June 2013

On migrant health care in Thailand

Two different (and opposing) perspectives on the cost of health care for migrants in Thailand:

Pradit floats idea for a regional health fund, The Nation, 15 June 2013
The large state spending for providing medical services to migrant workers and non-Thais along the Thailand-Myanmar border - in excess of Bt100 million a year - has prompted the Public Health Ministry to seek cooperation from the neighbouring country to set up a regional health fund. Public Health Minister Pradit Sinthawanarong said most of the hospitals in the five provinces along the border are having to shoulder the burden of providing healthcare services to migrant workers and non-Thais crossing the border.  Each year, the ministry has to spend more than Bt100 million to provide medical services to migrant workers and non-Thai citizens in five Tak districts along the border.  The government has allowed migrant workers to buy health insurance cards for Bt1,900 each to access medical services from hospitals they are registered with. But it found that only 32,154 workers had bought the insurance. Meanwhile, the ministry has spent more than Bt29 million to provide treatment for them and more than Bt112 million has been spent on non-Thais who have not registered yet.
Migrant workers miss out on healthcare, Myanmar Times, 24 June 2013
Migrant workers in Thailand say a new registration system has made it harder for them to access health care, with more than 1.2 million thought to be without any form of cover.

The Irrawaddy: Thai Company Reinstates Burmese Workers after Protest

The Irrawaddy reports:
Charoen Pokphand (CP), Thailand’s largest food manufacturer, agreed on Monday to reinstate more than 160 Burmese workers it had fired from a seafood-processing plant in Mahachai, Samut Sakhon Province, after workers staged a protest on Sunday.

The Irrawaddy: From Factories to Teashops, Child Labor a ‘Tradition’ in Burma

The Irrawaddy reports about ongoing child labour in Myanmar:
Child servers are a common sight at the average teashop or restaurant in Burma, where often the underage employees are working at the expense of schooling.
Burmese children have long been exploited as part of labor pools both at home and abroad, working for a pittance and receiving few social protections, labor activists and community leaders say.

More on the violence against Myanmar migrants in Malaysia

More articles about the fallout from violence against Myanmar migrants in Malaysia:

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Asia Times Online: Thai shrimp workers battle low pay, abuse

Asia Times Online reports on conditions of migrant workers in Thailand's shrimp industry.
"Sakhon or modern Mahachai, a central Thai province that is home to over 6,000 seafood factories. This fishing and factory town at the mouth of the Tha Chin Klong river, which empties into the Gulf of Thailand, also hosts a huge percentage of the estimated 2.5 million migrant workers who underpin much of Thailand's burgeoning economy. People from Myanmar comprise 82%of these migrants, while the rest come mostly from Laos (8.4%) and Cambodia (9.5%)... smaller processing factories "force workers to work overtime for less pay. The legal minimum wage is 300 baht [US$10] per day and overtime is 56 baht per hour, but they usually pay 50-100 baht overall, and no overtime. Most workers are confined to the compound in these factories. Often, they are locked up and their documents confiscated to prevent them from escaping." This is especially true in smaller factories, which handle the shrimp peeling for larger enterprises, where "shifts start at 4 am and finish late at night," according to U Aung Kyaw. Thailand's seafood industry employs more than 650,000 people. Its exports totaled US$7.3 billion in 2011, with the United States, Japan and Europe importing nearly 70% of the country's seafood."

DVB: Burmese migrants face ‘systemic’ exploitation near border

DVB provides a very good report on the "systematic exploitation" of migrants in Mae Sot, with information on the recent case at the "Champion" (SD Fashion Co. Ltd) case.

“I was fired two days after my child was born,” explains Zaw Lay, gesturing to his infant son cradled in his mother’s arms on the dusty floor. “I begged them not to do it, but it didn’t work.”

DBV: Migrants protest Mae Sot passport company

According to DVB ("Protest against a company doing temporary passports," DVB, 10 June), 45 Myanmar migrants protested outside the office of "Ko Charlie's" passport company (a franchise of NIK Global Manpower company) after they were arrested by the Thai police on their way out of Mae Sot to collect their passports.  Although the passport company had accepted their applications for work permits with Bangkok employers, Mae Sot government authorities subsequently revoked the rights of Mae Sot passports companies to distribute within Mae Sot passports registered with employers outside Mae Sot (see also "Prisoners of Mae Sot," Mizzima, 23 May 2013).

The Irrawaddy: More Than 500 Workers Demand The Release of Detained Furniture Factory Workers

"More Than 500 Workers Demand The Release of Detained Furniture Factory Labour," The Irrawaddy, 11 June 2013.

These workers are protests the recent arrest of some of their fellow workers who had protested in violation of some legal restriction.

The Irrawaddy: Low Wages in Burma Threaten Thailand’s Hold on Japanese Investors

"Low Wages in Burma Threaten Thailand’s Hold on Japanese Investors," Thai Business News, 11 June 2013.
Japan’s industrial investors stayed with Thailand through the army coups, the Bangkok-paralyzing massed Red-Shirt protests, and the mismanaged floods of 2011 that swamped so many Japanese-owned factories. But a huge labor force in Burma ready to work for one-sixth of a Thai wage could be a turning point.
The visit to Burma earlier this week by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s has certainly got the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in Bangkok worried. It helps explain why last week during a trade promotion visit to Tokyo she apologized to Japanese business leaders for “any inconvenience caused” to them and their businesses in Thailand in recent years and promised to do better.
“Please be patient with Thailand and we will amend and change the regulations for you and other investors,” Yingluck told a Tokyo conference. “Our government will try to make sure that Thailand will be a good place for investments for you all in the future,” she said in response to calls for changes in Thai rules on investment.
“We will try to work out and implement regulations that will suit the investors, as we want to make Thailand the regional hub,” Yingluck said.

Analysis of Myanmar's garment sector

"After Bangladesh Tragedy, Questions for Burma’s Garment Sector," The Irrawaddy, 11 June 2013.
...Burma’s low-wage workforce of some 33 million people could prove tempting to manufacturers globally. But labor rights groups are urging Burma to get it right when it comes to responsibly managing any new wave of labor-intensive job opportunities...

Reports of Thai police extorting Myanmar migrants

"Thai police accused of extorting labourers," Bangkok Post,
Myanmar’s labour minister has expressed concerns about Thai policemen extorting money from workers from his country regardless of whether or not they hold legal passports. U Maung Myint said he had heard reports that Thai policemen were intentionally arresting even workers holding temporary passports, which are considered legal... He said the workers had to pay between 500 and 1,000 baht each time they were arrested, which Maung Myint said was a form of exploitation and “is not good for the relations between the two countries”... It is estimated that UScopy92 million is generated annually from smuggling about 500,000 migrants from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia into Thailand. 
"Labor Min Accuses Thai Police of Extorting Burmese Migrants," The Irrwaddy, 11 June 2013.
Burmese Labor Minister Maung Myint has accused police in Thailand of extorting money from Burmese workers. In an interview with The Bangkok Post, the Burmese minister said he had heard that migrant workers, including those with legal documentation, are routinely arrested and forced to pay between 500 and 1,000 baht (US $16-32). He added that the practice “is not good for the relations between the two countries” and said that he had raised the issue with his Thai counterpart. According to Maung Myint, 1.5 million of the estimated 2 million Burmese nationals believed to be working in Thailand hold passports.

Follow up on attacks in Malaysia

Reports on follow-up assistance for Myanmar migrants in Malaysia after a series of attacks:

"Eleven Media coordinates donations for Myanmar victims," Eleven Media, 11 June 2013.

"Burmese Tycoons to Help Compatriots in Malaysia," The Irrawaddy, 11 June 2013.

Weekly Eleven: China deports Myanmar migrant workers

On Myanmar migrants in China:

"China deports Myanmar migrant workers," Weekly Eleven, 11 June 2013
Myanmar migrant workers entering China using temporary boarder passes are being deported for over-staying, according to local immigration officials.
“Starting from early months of 2012, over 500 migrant workers have been detained in China deported back to Myanmar," says Min Swe, an immigration officer from Muse border town.
The reasons for arrest and deportation are that migrant workers overstay their given period or attempt to travel beyond the limited area allowed to work. However, some are arrested because employers don't want to pay their wages.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Update on violence against migrants in Malaysia

Update on violence against Myanmar workers in Malaysia:

"Malaysian police arrest dozens of Myanmar workers," Eleven News, 6 June 2013.

"Malaysia Detains Hundreds of Burmese after Reports of Killings," The Irrawaddy, 6 June 2013.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

ILO's Steve Marshal on Myanmar's garment sector

The Myanmar Times provides some analysis ("Brand Myanmar grabs the global spotlight," 3 June 2013) on foreign investment into Myanmar's garment sector:
"...Recent disasters at factories in Bangladesh also have them looking for new countries to source from. “I don’t think we have seen the fallout from Bangladesh yet,” said Steve Marshall, the liaison officer of the International Labour Organisation in Myanmar.
Several global brands have contacted his office as part of their research. “Obviously they are concerned about reputational risk,” he said, adding that they are “doing their due diligence, seeking reports on broader human rights and also specifically on labour market issues”.
Steps are also being taken to prepare the legal basis for the implementation of a Better Factories program here, which will allow ILO monitors to assess factories for compliance with labour laws and ILO conventions. This will provide Western brands some confidence that their images will not be tarnished if they outsource production to Myanmar factories.
“Essentially what everybody has agreed is that at this stage it is too early to introduce a Better Work type scheme here because the legal structures do not exist for it,” Mr Marshall said, citing the absence of a minimum wage law and another covering occupational health and safety as examples.
These laws are, however, expected to be tabled during parliament’s next session, which begins on June 25.
Besides input from the ILO, the labour ministry is also receiving technical assistance on developing labour laws – as well as the garment industry as a whole – from the European Union, trade-related agencies of Western governments seeking bilateral deals with Myanmar, and global buyers, industry representatives and officials said.
The ILO is helping develop a legal framework for the industry, enforcement mechanisms, and a more nimble association for factory owners as well as trade unions. A major goal, according to Mr Marshall, is a labour market that is “cooperative rather than confrontational”.
He’s betting that this can be achieved by ensuring “constructive social dialogue” between factory owners and workers so that the interests of both sides are taken into account in the decision-making process. It is a goal he acknowledges will be tricky to pull off in a country that recently emerged from 50 years of military rule.
“This country has basically been an orders-based environment. Orders were issued, orders were received, orders were passed on and orders were obeyed,” Mr Marshall said. “This applied in all environments, including the workplace.”
An attitude shift is needed among employers as well as workers, he added. “A non-profitable company does not employ staff … so we have make sure that companies can be competitive and maintain profitability, and that is achieved not on the back of low wages but on high productivity, high quality, low waste and less rework.”
Mr Marshall believes that Myanmar’s advantage is that it is starting from scratch, and that this allows the formation of effective unions and industry associations as well as a collaborative approach to creating a garment sector that benefits both. “I actually believe [starting from scratch] creates opportunities, which if we are all clever we could actually use for very useful ends in terms of developing not just the economy but … society,” he said, adding that “what goes on in the workplace is a microcosm of what goes on outside”.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Violence against Myanmar migrants in Malaysia

Reports in recent violence against Myanmar migrants in Malaysia:

"Two Myanmar Buddhists decapitated in Malaysia," Eleven News,

"One Myanmar killed, 2 injured, in Malaysian gang attacks," Mizzima News, June 2013.
"There are more than 400,000 Myanmar migrant workers in Malaysia, according to Tin Latt. About 300,000 are legal workers, he said, while about 40,000 are illegal and about 90,000 are in various processes of refugee status..." 
"Myanmar urges probe into attack on its workers in Malaysia," People's Daily Online, 5 June 2013.

"Fatal Car Wash Stabbing Latest Attack on Burmese in Malaysia," The Irrawaddy, 4 June 2013.

"Four dead as Myanmar religious clashes bleed into KL," The Malaysian Insider, 5 June 2013.

Human smuggling and trafficking

Reports on human smuggling and trafficking into Thailand:

"DSI arrests Myanmar woman on human trafficking and forced labour charges," The Nation, 1 June 2013.
"... Teth Teth Win and her daughter Win Tanda Aong had illegally smuggled at least 15 people from Myanmar and forced them to work at a corn factory located in Tha Ma Kha district of Kanchanaburi province.  Jatuporn said his team had arrested Teth Teth Win and rescued six women from Myanmar who had been detained and tortured while they were staying at a camp for workers located near the factory. They had never received any wages despite being forced to pay between Bt15,000 and Bt20,000 to Teth Teth Win and her daughter for entering Thailand through Mae Sot and travelling to Kanchanaburi.... All those rescued have been sent to a safe house.  Teth Teth Win admitted that she had been involved in smuggling people from Myanmar, but said she did not know that it violated any human trafficking laws."
"Bodies of Myanmar migrants found in Thai sea," Al-Jazeera, 3 June 2013.
"The bodies of at least 12 migrant workers from Myanmar have been found in the sea off Thailand's west coast after their boat sank during bad weather... Ranong is 460 kilometres south of Bangkok and borders Myanmar. Police say it is common for migrant workers to travel by boat to illegally enter Thailand."

Workplace "accidents" among Myanmar migrants in Thailand and Singapore

Reports on recent workplace "accidents" involving Myanmar migrants.

Friday, 31 May 2013

MIgrant workers strike in Chiang Mai

DVB provides a video report about a 30 May 2013 strike involving over 100 Myanmar migrant construction workers in Chiang Mai over their employers violation of their employment contract.  Some photos of the strike are available here.

The Economist: Myanmar's remittances

The Economist reports on remittances from Myanmar migrants:
NO ONE has bothered to count how many people live in Myanmar since 1983 (when it was still Burma). No surprise then that no one has any clear idea how many people left the country during its 50 years under military rule. The men in green certainly did a savage job of mismanaging the economy though, and an untold number of their countrymen fled for want of opportunities at home. In 2009 the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) estimated that 10% of Myanmar’s population, then estimated to be 50m to 55m people, were living abroad.
The IOM’s estimate is roughly in line with a more recent one which suggests that there are between 2m and 4m Burmese workers in Thailand, perhaps another half-million in Malaysia, more than 100,000 in Singapore, a few thousand in Japan and South Korea, and then a totally unknown number in India and China.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

New report on trafficking in Thailand's fishing industry

The Environmental Justice Foundation released a new report on 29 May 2013 titled Sold to the Sea about trafficking, exploitation and other abuses against migrants in Thailand's fishing industry.

The report is available here.

Some news accounts of the report are available here, here and here.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

IPS: Hard Day’s Work Is Greater Remittance Cost for Burmese

Inter Press Service reports on remittances issues for Myanmar migrants in Thailand (via the Jakarta Globe):
Nangnyi Foung reaches into the dryer, pulls out another pair of pants and places it on the ironing board.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Mizzima: Prisoners of Mae Sot

My op/ed piece on some recent problems with the migrant registration process in Mae Sot is available on Mizzima.

The Irrawaddy: Burmese Migrant Workers’ Group Receives International Award

The Irrawaddy reports:
A Burmese migrant labor activist group has been honored with the International Labor Rights Award for its contribution to the labor rights movement and exposing work-related rights violations.

The International Labor Rights Forum on Wednesday jointly honored the Burmese Migrant Workers Rights Network (MWRN), which is based in Bangkok, and Thailand’s State Enterprises Workers’ Relations Confederation (SERC) for their “groundbreaking” work in defending migrant workers in Thailand.

Monday, 20 May 2013

DVB: Burmese embassy to issue migrant children with passports

DVB reports:

The Burmese embassy in Thailand will begin issuing temporary passports for children of registered migrant workers on Thursday, according to a government spokesperson.

Eleven News: Myanmar’s Oversea Employment Agencies Federation opens office in Thailand

Eleven News reports:
The Federation of Oversea Employment Agencies (Myanmar) has opened its first branch office in Bangkok to help Myanmar migrant workers in Thailand and to protect their labour rights, the federation chairman Min Hlaing said.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

DVB: Illegal Burmese migrants arrested in western Thailand

DVB reports on the arrest of undocumented migrants being smuggled via the Mae Sot area:

Over 100 Burmese nationals were arrested in western Thailand on Sunday, after being lured across the border by a trafficker who promised them jobs in the Kingdom, according to local news reports.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

AFP: Myanmar's 'old man's land' seeks new lease of life

AFP (via The Bangkok Post) reports on the absence of the working-age generation from rural areas of Mon State, who have left home to work abroad:
They call it "Old Man's Land" -- ravaged by conflict and economic deprivation, Myanmar's southeast Mon state is a place bereft of its young, who have flooded overseas in search of work.

Weekly Eleven: Myanmar workers demand 8 working hours and $100 monthly salary

Weekly Eleven reports on a workers' strike:
Myanmar's local workers from a Chinese-named factory in Yangon Region staged a peaceful protest on May 11 against its owner demanding an increase of their salary to 85000 kyats (about $100) a month and 8 working hours a day.

RFA: ထုိင္းႏိုင္ငံကို လူပြဲစားနဲ႔ တရားမ၀င္ေရာက္လာတဲ့ ျမန္မာ ၈၀ ေက်ာ္ကို ေနရပ္ျပန္ပို

RFA reports  on recent arrests of undocumented workers near Mae Sot being smuggled to Bangkok:

ထုိင္းႏိုင္ငံကို တရားမဝင္ဝင္ေရာက္လာတဲ့ ျမန္မာနုိင္ငံသား ၈၀ ေက်ာ္ကို ထုိင္းအာဏာပိုင္ေတြက တာ့ခရိုင္မဲေဆာက္ၿမိဳ႕မွာ တနဂၤေႏြြေန႔က ဖမ္းဆီးလိုက္ေၾကာင္း သိရပါတယ္။

Friday, 10 May 2013

The Nation: KBank expands remittance service to Myanmar

The Nation reports:
Kasikornbank is expanding the channels available for its workers' remittance service, aiming to double the bank's fund-transfer service network in Myanmar.

The Irrawaddy: Burma Govt Suspends 12 Migrant Worker Agencies

The Irrawaddy reports:
Burma’s Ministry of Labor has suspended 12 recruitment agencies because of alleged corruption and exploitation of migrant workers, The Myanmar Times reports. The ministry informed the agencies on April 25 that they were under investigation and should cease sending workers to Thailand. There were no further details on the extent of the investigation. Ma Khin Way, an office manager for one of the suspended agencies, Danar Trading Co Ltd, said she was confident that her firm would be allowed to resume operations soon. More than 2 million Burmese are working abroad. Many are sent by recruitment agencies, a largely unregulated sector that has been accused of exploiting and trafficking workers.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Reuters: Thai defamation laws allegedly used to muzzle activists and critics

Reuters reports on the Andy Hall case:
For the past decade, British labour activist Andy Hall has carved out a reputation for exposing the abuse and exploitation of Burmese migrant workers in Thailand.
Now his latest findings, published in January for a Finnish NGO, have pitted him against a businessman from a powerful political family.

First Myanmar Labour Organisations Conference

On 30 April 2013, the first Labour Organisations Conference was held in Myanmar organised by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the German NGO Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.

Summarising the event, the ILO reports:
One year after Myanmar passed its Labour Organization Law, delegates from some 500 labour organizations gathered in an unprecedented conference to hone their skills in labour organization, collective bargaining and occupational health and safety, among other areas of crucial importance to the country's workers... The ILO has established the Freedom of Association project to help in the implementation of the Labour Organization Law. The project is funded by the US State Department and provides education and training to workers, businesses and government officials.
More interestingly was a controversy that developed when some Myanmar unions suggested that certain groups and individuals had been planted at the conference in order to skew the vote for Myanmar's delegate to the June 2013 ILO conference in Geneva.  The Myanmar Times reports:
The first day of the largest labour conference in Myanmar in more than 50 years was marred by conflict between participants over the selection of a delegate for an international meeting in Geneva... Some 88 Generation members and labour delegates said they doubted whether all of the participants were from registered labour organisations, suggesting some may have been planted to affect the outcome of the vote for a Myanmar delegate to send to the International Labour Conference in Geneva, Switzerland in June. “I have doubts about voting for a delegate to go to Geneva. How can we vote if we don’t even know the other people sitting here,” one labour delegate said at the meeting. Mr Ross Wilson, the chief technical adviser for the ILO Freedom of Association Program in Yangon, attempted to resolve the dispute after the lunch break. One representative from a Myanmar non-government organisation, who asked not to be named, said they believed some groups were trying to derail the conference. “I think this kind of conference has come early for Myanmar, at a time when people are not yet used to labour organisations. Some political groups can take advantage of the situation,” she said.
An RFA video of the event shows FTUB's U Maung Maung walk out in anger along with a group of his supporters in response to the dispute.  It appears that some groups and labour activists were suggesting that FTUB had brought in additional people in order to skew the vote to get U Maung Muang elected as the Myanmar representative for the coming ILO conference.  In the video U Maung Maung states that he will not attend the conference because it "has no rules".  However, RFA reports that U Maung Maung nonetheless came back to attend the following day.  The other labour delegates in the video state that FTUB "has no position in Myanmar."

May Day in Mae Sot, Thailand

The Irrawaddy reports on May Day events in Mae Sot, and in particular the march and football tournament organised by the employers and the Thai government! (Albert Parsons must be rolling in his grave.)

ထိုင္းအလုပ္ရွင္ေတြနဲ႔ ထိုင္းအလုပ္သမားဌာနေတြစုေပါင္းၿပီး ဒီေန႔မွာက်ေရာက္တဲ့(ေမးေဒး) ေန႔အထိမ္းအမွတ္ ေပ်ာ္ပြဲရႊင္ပြဲေတြကို  မဲေဆာက္မွာက်င္းပေပးတာ ေတြ႔ရပါတယ္။

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

The Review: Burmese refugees flock to Iowa meatpacking town

The Review reports:
Like other waves of immigrants, they were drawn to this poor, sparsely populated region of southeastern Iowa by the promise of jobs, good schools and welcoming people... The refugees needed a paycheck -- and fast. Cuts in federal benefits for refugees mean there is little safety net in the way of food, medical or housing assistance. Tyson pays workers at least $13 per hour and provides health insurance. "They can make more in one week at Tyson Fresh Meats than they would make in one year back home," Rustad said. In Columbus Junction, Mickelson said, the first five Burmese workers were hired as part of a recruitment effort in Illinois and later encouraged friends and relatives to apply. 

NNT: Myanmar workers in Thailand participate in Labor Day events

National News Bureau of Thailand reports:
Myanmar migrant workers participated in Wednesday’s Labor Day activities in provinces across the country, while renewing calls for improved work conditions and rights for laborers. Over 1,000 Myanmar workers attended activities hosted by Mae Sot Municipality in Tak province. They took part in a colorful parade through the city before gathering at the King Naresuan Stadium to compete in sporting events organized to boost solidarity among the workers. In Ranong, Myanmar labor activists called for improvement of basic labor rights, which include health care, safety provisions and other benefits. They also stressed that a number of Thai employers in smaller provinces continued to avoid paying workers the new daily wage of 300 baht. The activist network noted that as Myanmar’s new government has taken measures to open up the country's borders, a large number of Myanmar laborers who migrated to Thailand are contemplating relocation to their native country.

Mizzima: Thai-Myanmar disputed islands shelter illegal workers

Mizzima reports:
Thai Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha has blamed "dishonest and bad" Thais for sparking Myanmar's territorial claim over three small islands in the overlapping marine area between the countries. He said Thai gangs were hiding illegal workers on the islands, which had given rise to new problems over territory claims. Myanmar representatives from the Thailand-Myanmar Township Border Committee (TBC) on Saturday said Nay Pyi Taw has prohibited Thais from entering Koh Lam, Koh Khan and Koh Khinok. Myanmar claims the islands are inside its territory based on a map drawn by Britain in 1939. Gen. Prayuth said the conflict over the islands is a long-standing one. The countries had agreed at the TBC that neither side would make use of the islands. But problems have reignited after Thai gangs hid illegal workers there. "I don't want to blame anyone else but our own people. They are unpatriotic and do not consider their nation but their own vested interests," Gen. Prayuth said. Some people from Myanmar were also involved, he added. He said the Thai and Myanmar sides have discussed the problem and agreed to drive the occupants from the islands.

Monday, 29 April 2013

The Irrawaddy: Workers’ Rights Improving, but Problems Remain

The Irrawaddy reports on changes in Myanmar's labour rights situation:
A year after the enactment of Burma’s labor organization and freedom of association laws, local and international workers’ rights activists say more must be done to support the newfound freedoms in practice.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

ATM remittances to Myanmar

The Bangkok Post reports:
Myanmar nationals working in Thailand will be able to remit funds to their homeland via ATM for the first time after Siam Commercial Bank (SCB) signed a deal with Myanmar’s Kanbawza Bank to accept transfers through their ATM network.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

New Mahachai-Mae Sot bus route for migrants

Bangkok Post reports on a new bus route for migrants from Mahachai to Mae Sot.
"A new bus route to Tak's Mae Sot was launched yesterday to help transport Myanmar migrant workers and their families to the border more comfortably... The new direct route will take Myanmar workers from Mahachai in Samut Sakhon province directly to the border at Mae Sot... It will help migrants travel home with more convenience and dignity, says the Migrant Workers' Rights Network (MWRN)... More importantly, the migrants can travel with some dignity as the bus will go through only one or two checkpoints where authorities will get on the bus to check their papers... Until now, the migrants have had to disembark from their shuttle buses or pickup trucks five or six times during the trip to be checked by officials... Very often, some of the workers were harassed and humiliated although they were carrying proper documents.. About 200 Myanmar workers travel to Mae Sot from Bangkok's Mor Chit Bus Terminal daily. That number is expected to increase to 300 a day during Songkran and other long holidays."

The lawsuit against labour rights activist Andy Hall

Local news article on the case of labour rights activist Andy Hall.
"Andy Hall (33) has been issued with criminal and civil libel suits by Thai company Natural Fruit, of Pranburi – one of the country’s biggest pineapple exporters – and faces jail and damages of US$10 million... Mr Hall was one of a team who produced a report on companies employing immigrant labour for the watchdog organisation Finnwatch. But, rather than sue Finnwatch, Natural Fruits chose to sue Mr Hall personally after they gathered information he had presented to a meeting at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand."
You can support Andy Hall in this case through via an online Labour Start campaign here.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

On ASEAN labour market intergration

The Wall Street Journal reports on the migrant labour aspects of ASEAN economic integration:
The disparities in income levels and economic development within Southeast Asia highlight the challenges facing the Association of Southeast Asian Nations as they try to tie their economies closer together by the end of 2015. Asean is preparing to allow the freer flow of goods, investment and skilled labor ahead of the launch of the Asean Economic Community, a union modeled on the European common market, by Dec. 31, 2015... The region emerged largely unscathed from the global financial crisis, and the bloc's economy—with a combined GDP of some $2.2 trillion that should grow 5% to 6% a year for the next five years, according to the International Monetary Fund—has become an increasingly important source of global growth as developed economies falter... Southeast Asia's relatively young demographic is drawing growing investment to the region... With a total population of about 600 million people, open borders within Asean could allow vast numbers of workers to move across Southeast Asia seeking higher wages and better opportunities. That could reduce income disparities—and benefit the bloc's economy as a whole... To grow as a bloc "you have to integrate our labor and capital markets... That's something that will have to happen down the road."

Update on Myanmar workers in Jordan

Eleven News has an update of the recent labour conflict involving Myanmar migrant workers employed at a garment factory in Jordan. 
Over 900 Myanmar workers will remain in Jordan and continue with their employment in spite of fact that most desire to return to their home... Many are facing all sorts of difficulties... Among the 1,300 workers, over 200 workers have already come back. The rest are staying at Jordan because of various reasons.  “Some had to mortgage their houses and lands when they went to Jordan and now they have been still in debt so they couldn’t go back to Myanmar. Some are staying there as their contract is nearly complete and so they don’t want to pay compensation to the company. They hope that some officials from Myanmar come there and help them,” ... Myanmar workers working at Century Garment Apparel protest started when diarrhea broke out after eating the meals the employer has given to them.  They have demanded for raising salary up to US $ 200, to end racial discrimination and to provide healthy food that is suitable with Myanmar people. Their protest started from February 14 to March 25 peacefully but the factory owner didn’t agree with them... There are a total of 3,200 Myanmar workers working in six garment factories in Jordan.

Passports, brokers and extortion

Trustlaw has an excellent article on the problems with Thailand's current passport and work permit registration process:
...a broker who offered to get her Burmese passport and Thai work permit for a 12,000 baht ($409) fee - more than a month’s wage and three times the cost if she were to do it herself. “I asked why it was so expensive, and the broker said, ‘There are lots of others involved. I only get a share’, ... In an effort to legalise its migrant labourers, Thailand in 2009 set up a National Verification (NV) registration process, but over the years, the convoluted paperwork required spawned an exploitative industry of middlemen who cut through the red tape - at an exorbitant cost... “There’s corruption from brokers and government officials… And there’s no transparency to the process.” ... workers like Aye are being squeezed for the little money they earn by brokers who collude with government officials and employers... The current registration process was established after a previous one ended in December. It was supposed to be more transparent following activists’ complaints of corruption and overcharging during the earlier process... Yet things remained the same. It is almost impossible for a migrant worker to get the paperwork without brokers, who push up the prices. “Every time the government announces a deadline and say (the workers) will be deported if they don’t register by then, it’s an opportunity for brokers to exploit the workers.

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Police extortion of Myanmar migrants in Mae Sot

Police in Mae Sot, Thailand have been extorting 1,000 baht per person from Myanmar migrants returning home for the April 2013 water festival, The Irrawaddy reports here and here.

News summary: January - March 2013

Due to a near three month lapse in posting, the following are some articles from January to March 2013 dealing with Myanmar workers in Myanmar or abroad.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Bangkok Post: Thailand to deport 400 Rohingya migrants after raid

The Bangkok Post reports:
Around 400 Rohingya migrants discovered in a raid on a camp hidden in a remote rubber plantation in southern Thailand will be deported back to Myanmar, Thai police said on Friday.

AsiaOne: Thousands of Myanmar workers trapped in border town

AsiaOne News reports
MYAWADY, Myanmar - Thousands of Myanmar migrant workers are trapped and living in miserable conditions in Myawady, Myanmar's border town with Thailand, sources said.
They said these workers were recruited by illegal job agencies and have no proper work visas. There are more than 40 legal job agencies operating in Myawady but the illegal ones reportedly recruit workers from across Myanmar, according to an official from a newly opened agency in the border town.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

DVB: Burmese migrants lose jobs after Thai wage hike

DVB reports on recent claims that factories in Tak Province recently closed down due to the increase in the minimum wage.  What would be helpful to know is if these factories were actually paying the legal minimum wage previously, which I doubt.  Since so few factories in Mae Sot pay the minimum wage anyways, it's not clear why the recent increase would make much difference to employers.  
Thousands of Burmese migrants face unemployment after new minimum wage requirements imposed by the Thai government earlier this month forced several factories and workshops to close down.

Many businesses, who employ cheap labour from neighbouring Burma, Cambodia and Laos, cannot afford to pay their workers the 300 Baht (USD$10) daily wage required by law since 1 January.

According to Thai media, dozens of factories have been closed, including some eight garments, electronics and ceramic producers based in Tak province near the Burmese border. Thousands of jobs are estimated to have been lost.