Ac­tivists, em­ploy­ment agen­cies spar over ‘le­gal hu­man-traf­fick­ing’ claims

The Myanmar Times - - News - ZAW ZAW HTWE za­wza­whtwe@mm­times.com

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.

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