Thursday, 31 March 2016

Developments in Thailand's post-coup migrant registration

Following the May 2014 coup in Thailand, the new military government cancelled the prior migrant registriation process, and replaced in with the so-called "pink cards".  The following provides some information on new procedures for migrants to move from the "pink cards" to more expansive registration.  But why are migrants in the fisheries sector excluded?
Chaiyaphum province has opened the One Stop Service Center, servicing migrant workers from neighboring countries who are looking for jobs in the area... [the registration services] are available for workers who possess immigrant identification cards issued by the National Council for Peace and Order, and workers from the three countries who have completed the nationality verification process and are holding identification documents, issued by their country of origin, such as passport or other identification papers. The service is however unavailable for workers from Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia who are employed in the fisheries and seafood processing industry.
"Chaiyaphum opens immigrant workers One Stop Service Center," National News Bureau of Thailand, 30 March 2016. 

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Japanese investment in GMS development

On Japanese investment in GMS development:
Japan has agreed to provide US$21 million worth of aid to help upgrade human resources and workers in countries within the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) for three years... Japanese and Thai specialists will be dispatched to provide training for workers in Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar... Thai officials have been asked to help by easing access for foreign workers' work permits and entry visas... the Japanese government pledged ¥750 billion ($6.1 billion) for assistance to five GMS countries -- Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam -- as part of a new strategy for Mekong-Japanese cooperation during 2016-18... This move comes amid China's active efforts to promote the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which Japan sees as a challenge to the Asian Development Bank it founded. The Thai government must invest more in education to produce a labour force that can match the demands of Japanese industry, it said.. Japan adjusted its educational system and allocated funds for training to create a skilled labour force capable of meeting rising demand amid industrial expansion, especially after the government instituted numerous policies to promote investment.
"Japan allots $21m to raise standards," Bangkok Post, 29 March, 2016.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Labelling migrants as a health threat

Labelling migrants as a health threat in Thailand:
Health officials warn that foreign maids and workers could bring leprosy, elephantiasis, etc. The soaring labour migration in the region following the implementation of the Asean Economic Community may increase the risks of people contracting many diseases in Thailand including leprosy, the Disease Control Department has warned... She said illegal migrant workers usually did not undergo blood tests and might sneak into the country with elephantiasis. 
 "Asean worker influx stirs fear of ‘diseases returning’," The Nation, 26 March, 2016.

On Korean firms in Myanmar

Are Korean-owned garment firms in Myanmar an exception, or are they reflective of a broader pattern?
South Korean-owned garment manufacturers in Myanmar are widely flouting labor law, with almost 30 percent of factories failing to observe overtime rules... factories wholly or jointly run by Korean firms regularly violate labor law, including a 16-hour weekly limit on overtime... 62 percent [of interviewed workers] reported not being able to refuse to work hours beyond the legal limit, while 63 percent said they did not make enough money to live comfortably. In addition, 15 percent of workers said they had worked extra hours without compensation. Thirty percent of workers reported receiving payslips in only Korean or English, in violation of the law, while just 22 percent said they could take advantage of their legal entitlement to 30 days of medical leave, according to the report released Friday. Just 67 percent of factories had legally-required emergency exits, a quarter of which were inaccessible... child labor is “prevalent,” but unquantifiable due to reticence among workers fearful underage workers could be fired if they spoke out... South Korean factories employ 37 percent of workers in Myanmar’s garment industry, according to the Myanmar Garment Manufacturers Association. South Korea was responsible for 7 percent of all foreign investment in the Southeast Asian country in 2015.
"South Korean Firms Abusing Myanmar Workers: Report," The Diplomat, 25 March, 2016

Difficulties of migrant domestic workers in Thailand

On the difficulties migrant domestic workers in Thailand face:
...rights groups say female migrant domestic workers [in Thailand] continue to face abuses behind closed doors. For laborers from Myanmar... life without a proper work permit constrains her daily travel. “I never got any days off. If I wanted to go outside, I had to ask permission. Sometimes I needed to go help my relatives who were sick. I asked for time off and they told me I had to finish my work and could only go for one or two hours and had to come back right away,” she said... Isolation and long hours are common obstacles that domestic workers face in finding the time to seek local support networks for help... Migrant aid worker Pim Saenwee [said,] “It’s hard for us to get connected with the domestic workers because they’re kept in private houses. For outsiders like us, it’s hard to get in, and hard for them to get out. In past, many maids are abused with wages and rights abuse and sexual abuse... [ILO] says more than a quarter of women employed in Asia work more than 48 hours a week... “It’s a gender issue that domestic work is not seen as work because it's something that women do and housewives are not paid to do all the work that they do. So then you bring in somebody from outside to do that work and it's still not considered work and still not protected by labor laws,” [said ILO migrant labor expert Jackie Pollock].
"Domestic Workers from Myanmar Overworked in Thailand," VOA, 22 March, 2016

Monday, 14 March 2016

A south-south spatial fix?: Relocating seafood processing from Thailand to Myanmar

The Nation reports:
A 10-rai site in the Dawei Special Economic Zone's initial phase was reserved for about Bt30 million. As soon as VSI Union Thai is registered, an ice plant will be constructed, to be followed by a processing plant whose output will be going to Thailand as well as Italy and Japan. "In five years, more seafood businesses in Thailand will move here as this is home to most of our workers," he said while inspecting his site last week... given the depletion of marine life in Thailand's seas, he continued sourcing seafood from Myeik and Dawei in the past 15 years... The decision was also made at the time when Thailand's seafood industry is facing some non-tariff measures. The EU's tough requirements for Thailand to comply with the illegal, unreported and unregulated rule result in difficulties in sourcing materials, he said. Now, he sees only the bright side. The abundance of seafood and factory hands is one thing. He also expects to gain a lot from investment privileges offered to businesses in special economic zones as well as the European Union's generalised system of preferences (GSP) offered to labour-intensive industries in Myanmar.
"Thai seafood sector sees bright future in Dawei," The Nation, 9 March 2016.

Friday, 11 March 2016

Blaiming migrants in Thailand for crimes, again

Police in Thailand continue to target migrants on grounds of criminal involvement, but without substantiating evidence.  As the Bangkok Post writes:
More than 200 police, soldiers and local officials raided nine locations on Pattaya’s Koh Larn on Friday... The squad searched for narcotics, took DNA samples from migrant workers, recorded their personal information and registered them... Thai law enforcement officials routinely accused migrant workers from Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos of being behind crimes, particularly of tourists. However, on Koh Larn, the most recent violent attack - a rape of a Chinese woman in September - was committed by two Thai speedboat drivers.
"Military, police sweep Koh Larn for drugs, illegal workers," Bangkok Post, 11 March 2016

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Backpay win for piece-rate migrant factory workers in Thailand

It is indeed significant that migrant piece-rate workers in Thailand have won a backpay claim. But insofar as these workers were employed within the factory for set hours (e.g. 8:00-5:00), this is not unprecedented. Migrant factory workers similarly on piece-rates in Mae Sot have won such claims before, since they can argue that set hours require minimum wage payment under Thai labour law. Truly significant would be a victory for a backpay claim (or, indeed, any labour rights claim) made by piece-rate workers employed outside the factory and without set hours, such as home-based "putting-out workers" in Mae Sot's garment sector.  As Nyan Lynn Aung at the Myanmar Times reports:
A Thai fisheries factory has further capitulated to the demands of its workers and agreed to equally compensate all labourers in a company-wide settlement – a development rights advocates say is virtually unprecedented. The new terms will extend to 200 mostly Myanmar staffers on a “piecemeal” contract who were initially overlooked. At the end of February, the factory agreed to shell out compensation in a rare victory for migrant workers. The workers had been fighting to end a smattering of abuses at the factory, including overcharging for work documents, unpaid overtime and illegal paycheck deductions. The initial settlement deal involved 48 million baht (US$1.3 million) of backpay, divided between 1750 workers, including over 1400 from Myanmar. However, up to 200 workers paid on an output basis said they were not covered in the settlement. Last week the terms were extended, and the “piecemeal” workers were each given 20,000 baht ($566) in backpay.
"Further win for fisheries workers in Thailand," Myanmar Times, 10 March 2016.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Police brutality against workers under an NLD government

Significantly, patterns of police brutality against workers continue in Myanmar under an NLD government. According to Eleven Media ("Victim of police beating transported to Yangon," 9 March, 2016):
"After everything was settled, policemen came again [to the factory in Dawei on 8 March, 2016] with their station chief around 11pm. Four policemen cocked their firearms and were ordered by a police officer to shoot anyone that entered. They then asked Thet Naung and Aung Phyo Lin to step forward because they had bad attitudes. When Thet Naung stood up, around 10 policemen grabbed him, and Thet Naung resisted. The police beat him, and one policeman struck him on the head with a thick rod from the factory. The doctor has said he has a brain hemorrhage and is not likely to survive. Thet Naung’s family was told that neither a surgery in Dawei Hospital nor the plane ride to Yangon can guarantee his life," said a colleague of Thet Naung who witnessed the incident.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Benefits of protecting migrants overlooked: UN

The Myanmar Times on the UN's 2015 Asia-Pacific Migration report:
"The [UN] research shows that 'it is the prevailing economic and policy context which shapes the impact of migration'. The UN argues the region could and should be doing more to promote a streamlined process ensuring everything from fair recruitment practices, to social protections, fair pay and assimilation. Few of the [Southeast Asia] region’s countries have implemented comprehensive, long-term migration policies, however. In this absence, bilateral agreements reign over the migration process, but often fail to provide adequate protection or oversight. Inevitably, unscrupulous brokers and human trafficking fill the vacuum... Instead of seeing migrants as a national security threat or funnelling labourers to destination countries through short-term arrangements that restrict rights and neglect abuses, the report suggests both countries of origin and destination must put better structures in place."
"Benefits of protecting migrants overlooked: UN," Myanmar Times, 8 March 2016

Friday, 4 March 2016

Myanmar-Bangladesh garment manufactures cooperate

Will Myanmar's garment manufacturing develop in the direction of Bangladesh? (I can't help thinking of Rana Plaza.)
A leader of Myanmar garment producers has invited Bangladesh to work together in fighting global business challenges. "Now there are many challenges in the world. TTP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) is coming. Why don’t we work together? We can fight together for US GSP," Khine Khine Nwe Rosaline, Secretary General of Myanmar Garment Manufacturers Association, said in Dhaka...

Currently, the country has around 400 garment factories that employ between 350,000 and 400,000 workers. Bangladesh’s nearly 3,500 factories employ about 4 million workers. Myanmar exports $1.8 billion and has set a $10-billion-mark target for the next 10 years, while Bangladesh eyes doubling current exports to $50 billion by 2020. But neither country enjoys the GSP privilege in the US market...

She said Bangladesh was "so much advanced" in the garment industry that “we want to learn the growth story”. She said six months back they sent a delegation to visit Bangladesh’s factories and learn about business operations. “We’ll send another delegation shortly,” she said.
"Myanmar business leader invites Bangladesh to fight together for US GSP,", 4 March 2016