Activists, employment agencies spar over ‘legal human-trafficking’ claims
THAILAND and Myanmar must agree on a migrant worker system that does not functionally result in “legal human-trafficking”, activists said at a press conference last week.
The remark ignited a scuffle with owners of overseas employment agencies who disputed allegations that their business model is barely a cut above black-market human smugglers’.
At the August 2 press conference in Yangon, activists from Aide Alliance Committee for Myanmar Workers (AAC) and the Myanmar Association in Thailand (MAT) highlighted continued issues with the migrant worker memorandum of understanding (MoU) inked by the Myanmar and Thai governments.
Also on hand were 23 migrants who had entered Thailand through the MoU system but were ultimately driven out of the factories where they briefly worked.
“MoU migration is supposed to be a G-to-G [government-to-government] project, but currently it is more like a B-to-B [business-to-business] project,” said U Kyaw Thaung, director of the MAT. “Overseas employment agencies are sending migrants to Thailand by using unfair or dishonest tactics so we call it ‘legal human-trafficking’.”
Activists said that they want the government to review and scrutinise the employment agencies’ work programs. They claim to have substantial proof – in the form of both documents and witnesses – of dishonest practices by employment agencies leading to the imprisonment of migrant workers.
In one case, they said, an agency sent 179 Myanmar nationals to a Thai factory, but when the workers arrived, they were told no employees were needed.
“In 2012, embassy inspectors and AAC leaders inspected a factory and found no labourers and no need of labourers,” U Kyaw Thuang said. “At the police station, in front of embassy
‘If every migrants association ... will cooperate with us, we can improve migrants’ affairs.’
U Kyaw Zaw MOEAF general secretary
inspectors, the factory manager admitted that they did not need workers. But at the same time, an agency was sending over hundreds of migrants to that factory.”
Thai brokers are buying bogus letters that claim a need for workers in factories and businesses, he said.
The 23 workers in attendance said they had recently returned home after being driven from a factory. A Myanmar agency, Mya Win, sent them with two-year contracts to work in a chicken processing factory, they said. But the contracts were changed with forged signatures in Myawady township, which borders Thailand, the migrants claimed. Instead, they were sent to work in a pineapple juice factory, they said, where they were given only a two-month contract.
Ma Khin Thida Htun said that after getting kicked out of the factory with the other 22 workers on July 18, they stayed at the employer’s home for 18 days.
“Many times, we called and asked for help from the agencies over those 18 days,” she said. “But no one helped us. Finally, the AAC came and saved us. We are not satisfied with the agency. We will sue this agency if they do not solve our grievances. We have strong documents and records.”
Many agencies break labour agreement contracts, activists said, and they fail to take responsibility for the consequences, which have included injury and death.
“We accuse the MoU migration system of legal human-trafficking,” said U Khaing Gyi, an AAC leader and member of the embassy’s Committee for Workers’ Protection. “Anyone can sue us using any law that they like, if we are wrong.”
He asked the Myanmar government to investigate the situation and take harsh action against wayward agencies and labour officers.
U Kyaw Zaw, general secretary of the Myanmar Oversea Employment Agencies Federation (MOEAF), who also attended the press conference, told The Myanmar Times that federation members are operating on a legal business and are sending workers to Thailand according to the laws and the MoU.
He faulted business owners in Thailand who are demanding far more workers than they actually need.
“We carry out our tasks responsibly,” he said. “But Thailand’s businessmen also need to carry out their tasks [responsibly]. They must pay the salaries for all the jobs they asked for from us. If every migrants association – legal or illegal – will cooperate with us, we can improve migrant affairs. If the associations help migrants in order to further their interests through good publicity, we will face more migration problems.”
U Myo Aung, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population, said the workers who wish to go to Thailand under the MoU system need to read their contracts carefully and report problems to the respective agencies and the government.
“Do report to us,” he said. “We can solve the MoU workers’ problems with G-to-G systems. They made the wrong move by reporting this only to civil society organisations and not the government.”
About 4 million Myanmar migrants – documented and undocumented – are working in Thailand, with 4000 to 5000 headed across the border every month, according to MOEAF.