Migrant and hill tribe workers get more rights and opportunities



Several Thai businesses have been showing increased recognition of migrant workers’ rights by including their representatives on company committees for employee welfare, going beyond a government regulation requiring they establish the committees but that does not mandate they include migrant workers. In addition, the Ministry of Labor agreed last week that hill tribe people who lack Thai citizenship would be permitted to work in any type of job in Thailand.

“This has helped create a happy work environment and promote better understanding and cooperation between workers and employers,” said Attapan Masrungson, an executive at Thai Union, one of the largest seafood companies in Thailand and one that has recently become a leader in improving working conditions for migrants.

The company, along with many in the seafood processing industry, had come under fire in recent years for using suppliers that mistreat migrant workers and may be involved in human trafficking. Late last year, Thai Union announced it would stop sourcing from third parties and only rely on in-house operations to ensure that workers are treated fairly and not victims of trafficking.

Thai Union provided jobs to many migrant workers formerly employed by third-party suppliers it no longer uses, and has joined the Shrimp Sustainable Supply Chain Task Force, a group of Thai seafood producers, American retailers, workers rights groups and international organizations such as the International Labor Organization, to find ways to eliminate any abuses in supply chains.

Under section 96 of Thailand’s Labor Protection Act, companies and enterprises are required to set up welfare committees that include employees or their representatives. While there is no explicit requirement that migrant workers be included, some have taken the progressive step of bringing migrant members of staff on to the panels to represent their interests.

The role of migrant workers in welfare committees was also the subject of a recent seminar held in Samut Sakhon, where many seafood companies base their operations. It was attended by Thai and migrant workers and employers.

Palida Chaimongkol, a scholar on workers’ welfare and protection, said workers who are members of employee committees have a better understanding of the problems faced by their colleagues than their employers and so can raise awareness and help improve working and living conditions.

Meanwhile, hill tribe people who do not have Thai citizenship will be eligible for more working opportunities in the Kingdom under a proposal by the Ministry of Labor that has been forwarded to the Office of the Prime Minister.

The Ministry is proposing lifting restrictions on which types of jobs hill people can work in, opening up virtually all jobs in the country to them.

The government has been working to grant more hill people citizenship, but the process is slow and verification can be challenging. Hill people traditionally roam across borders in the region and often lack documentation despite having been born in a country or lived there most of their lives.

Image credit: thailand.prd.go.th