Migrant Workers’ Forum in Bangkok brings together tripartite stakeholders on labour rights of migrant workers

Tripartite stakeholders from Thailand’s seafood processing sector highlighted migrant worker rights at the Migrant Workers Forum that was organized on International Migrants Day. The International Migrants Day marks the adoption of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrants Workers and Members of their Families.

News | 23 February 2015

The Forum was organized in December 2014, by the State Enterprise Worker Relations Confederation of Thailand (SERC) in collaboration with the Migrant Worker Rights Network (MWRN) and the Thai Fishery Producers Coalition (TFPC). The Forum focused on migrant workers’ access to complaint mechanisms in Thailand and aimed at raising the awareness of migrant workers on available grievance mechanisms.

The International Labour Organization supported the Forum, in alignment with its objective to ensure safe and just working conditions in the Thailand’s seafood industry and to increase the access of migrant workers and their families, particularly children, to education and social services.

Migrant workers play a substantial role in Thailand’s economic growth and prosperity. However, migrant workers continue to face discrimination, poor working conditions, systematic abuse by labour brokers, limited access to social security and compensations, and forced labour situations. Moreover, they rarely have fair representation through unions or the opportunity to collectively demand for their rights.

The Forum underscored the right of migrant workers to freedom of association and collective bargaining as a fundamental aspect of the rights of all workers. Mr. Sawit Kaewvarn - SERC’s Advisor, Mr. Kittipol Tungklang - representative of the Thai Trade Unions in the National Reform Council, and Mr. Pong-Sul Ahn - Senior Specialist in Workers’ Activities from ILO’s Decent Work Team in Bangkok, spoke about the need to ratify the ILO C87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention) and C98 (Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention) by Thailand.

The Forum engaged more than 300 participants, the majority of whom were migrant workers from Myanmar working in the seafood processing industry, in the province of Samut Sakhon, Thailand. The Forum provided migrant workers with information and practical advice on labour issues through various interactive panel sessions.

The first panel engaged migrant workers and Thai Trade Union representatives who shared their experiences and concerns. The next panel of tripartite stakeholders consisted of Thai Trade Union representatives, the Department of Labour Protection and Welfare, Department of Employment, Social Security Office of the Ministry of Labour, representatives from the Thai Fishery Producers’ Coalition and the Migrant Workers’ Rights Network. The government officials provided important information about the policy for protection of migrant workers on grievance channels that are already available to migrant workers. Mr. Aung Kyaw, Vice-President of the Migrant Workers Rights Network, emphasized that making complaint is still difficult for migrant workers even as the possibility of complaining has improved since 2010.

Thus, the Forum provided a unique opportunity for migrant workers to meet with the Ministry of Labour officials among other key industry stakeholders. Furthermore, the Forum demonstrated the need for similar spaces for interactions between migrant workers, employers and authorities at the provincial level, particularly to provide migrant workers with updated information and to build trust, dialogue and collaboration among the stakeholders.

Many of the questions raised by the migrant workers touched on the most pressing issues for them – expiration of passports, extension of employment permits and visa, the process under the National Verification system, extortion by labour brokers through the use of “documentation fee”, claiming social security benefits and repatriation, and difficulty in changing employer. The workers emphasized the need for open and regular communication with employers, improving access to reliable language interpreters at the workplace and during the complaints process, and improving the employers’ and government officials awareness on migrant workers’ rights.

Lastly, the forum provided an excellent opportunity for the SERC and Migrant Worker Rights Network to disseminate their goals and activities, and expand their network among migrant workers.

ILO aims to create an industry that is free of child labour and forced labour, an industry that offers decent working conditions and opportunities to Thai and migrant workers. Special attention is given to the situation of Thai and migrant children at risk of entering or involved in hazardous child labour practices.

The ILO-IPEC project in Thailand is funded by the United States Department of Labour. This web-release does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the United States Department of Labour, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the United States Government.