Tuesday, June 27, 2017
The Myanmar Times
The Myanmar Times

Exploitation claims see labour agencies suspended

On April 25, the Ministry of Labor suspended 12 of the largest work abroad agencies in the country,  citing allegations of corruption and exploitation from the workers they service.  

Migrants from Myanmar work in a shrimp factory in Mahachai on the outskirts of Bangkok. Photo: AFPMigrants from Myanmar work in a shrimp factory in Mahachai on the outskirts of Bangkok. Photo: AFP

Though migrant's rights activists have long been calling on the government to crack down on the corruption, many remain skeptical that the suspensions will lead to substantial change.

According to an internal memo sent to the twelve agencies and obtained by The Myanmar Times, the companies will be unable to send migrant labourers to Thailand until an “investigation” can be carried out into their business practices.

What this “investigation” will entail is not specified.  Ms. Khin Way, an office manager for Danar Trading Co. Ltd, one of the suspended companies, said her company had not received any kind of scrutiny since the official announcement.

Speaking in Danar Trading Co's Yangon office, Ms. Khin Way said that in her and her supervisors conversations with the Ministry of Labor since April 25, they have only been asked to provide a short letter detailing their contract with one migrant worker who claimed he was exploited.  In general, Ms. Khin Way talked about the suspension as if it was nothing serious, and said she was confident their license would be restored “very soon.”  Despite the best efforts of The Myanmar Times, none of the other agencies could be reached for comment.

Mr. Tun Min Soe is a carpenter from Yangon, and was one of the migrants whose complaints precipitated the suspensions.  Speaking over the phone to The Myanmar Times, he described his experiences abroad.

Mr. Tun Min Soe paid 150,000 kyat to the Dare Dragon Company Limited for job placement as a mason or carpenter in Bangkok.  Though he expected to start work immediately, but the beginning of his journey was four months living in the migrant camps on either side of the Thai-Myanmar border near Myawaddy and Mae Sot while border officials and brokers sorted our his visa.  In this time he was without employment and was forced to live off, and largely deplete, his savings.

Once he arrived in Bangkok, Tin Min Soe found that instead of working in his trained profession, he would be doing general labor at construction sites, mostly hauling materials.  He alleges that he was paid below the minimum wage, received no coverage for medical care, and was denied overtime pay, all of which he claims Dare Dragon guaranteed him in their first meeting.

He said this his situation was identical to many thousands of migrants trying to legally work in Thailand, but many are afraid to speak out.  When asked what he wanted to come from the investigations, he said that Dare Dragon should be put out of business.

The Yangon office of the Dare Dragon Company declined to comment on this story. 

The official system for migrant workers to enter Thailand, known as national verification, has long been beset by allegations of corruption on both sides of the border.  In an open letter to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Migrant Workers Rights network called the national verification system “extortionate in practice,” both for the high fees migrants must pay to enter Thailand, and the gruelling work conditions they find when they arrive.

The Ministry of Labor did not make any official announcement regarding the suspensions and could not be reached for comment on the story, though there were several attempts at interviews by The Myanmar Times.

Mr. Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch, who wrote a report on the conditions of migrant workers in Thailand entitled “From the Tiger to the Crocodile,” said he was surprised by the suspensions came at all, but cautioned that more was needed from the government, “It’s a positive step that the Myanmar Ministry of Labor is taking this action, but ultimately they need to have a vigorous and effective regulatory scheme that ensures manpower agencies do not charge usurious fees to send workers to Thailand.” Mr. Robertson said via email.

Ms. Jackie Pollack, director of the MAP foundation for migrant's rights in Northern Thailand, said she hoped the government's investigation will result in a better system where broker agencies take “responsibility” for the well-being of their workers. 

However, given that she and her foundation were completely unaware the suspensions had occurred, she is not optimistic.  “If nobody knows what's going on, the migrants won't know either and they will continue to be exploited in their work.” 

She went on to say that the whole situation illustrates the back-room dealing and lack of transparency that has come to define and derail the national verification process.