September 23, 2017

Myanmar, Thailand negotiate to solve migrant labour issue

Migrant workers are welcomed by volunteers as they arrive in Kawthoung on the Thai-Myanmar border. Photo: Kyaw Soe (Kawthoung)

In an attempt to solve the growing problem of undocumented Myanmar migrant workers in Thailand who are returning to their homeland out of fear of a new labour decree, the two countries are negotiating on issuing official documents to workers, but the talks are still ongoing and incomplete, said Union Minister for Labour, Immigration and Population U Thein Swe at a news conference in Nay Pyi Taw yesterday.
The number of migrant workers who returned to Myanmar reached 34,069 as of yesterday morning, according to the ministry. The influx has overtaxed social agencies and border crossings, officials said.
“Workers should avoid seeking employment through brokers and they should seek job opportunities with official agencies and should go the neighbouring country only when they get an official letter offering a job,” said the Union Minister.
Earlier this week, Thailand’s junta delayed full enforcement of a new labour law aimed at regulating the foreign workforce after the decree sparked panic and prompted more than 60,000 foreign workers to flee from the country, many of them from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia.
The new decree would have imposed heavy fines on employers and employees who do not have work permits, a senior official said.
The original decree was issued in part to tackle human trafficking concerns raised by the international community, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam told reporters on Tuesday.
Despite the delay of the decree, undocumented workers are still returning to their home countries in droves.
Even as more and more migrant workers return home due to harsher labour law enforcement by Thai authorities, Ranong border gate officials allow only 100 people per day to cross the border. This has caused many Myanmar migrants to struggle to find enough food and lodging while waiting to cross back into Myanmar.
It is estimated that about 5 million Myanmar nationals are working in Thailand and of them, about 2,200,000 have proper documents, Union Minister U Thein Swe said. Meanwhile, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Mr Filippo Grandi held talks with Union Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement Dr Win Myat Aye in Nay Pyi Taw yesterday over accepting the Myanmar migrant workers who returned of their own volition from Thailand.
For those undocumented Myanmar workers who remain in Thailand, churches and affiliated organisations have been helping those who face difficulties returning home.
The Diocesan Social Action Center (DISAC) in Phuket is providing assistance to Myanmar migrant workers who want to go home but cannot.
DISAC is sending Myanmar migrant workers who do not have an employment permit to Ranong through Phuket. The association then sends them to Kawthoung in Myanmar, said an official from the DISAC.
Currently, DISAC has already sent about  400 Myanmar migrant workers to the Kawthoung through Ranong as of yesterday.— GNLM ( Kyaw Soe (Kawthoung) also contributed to this storty)

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