A memorandum of understanding on migrant labor that Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi will sign with the Thai government later this week will make it easier for Myanmar migrants to work legally in Thailand, according to a copy of the document’s provisions obtained by BenarNews, a sister entity of RFA.
Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto leader, will begin an official three-day visit to neighboring Thailand on Thursday, during which she will meet with Thai Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-o-cha the following day to discuss issues related to refugee repatriation and bilateral relations, especially labor and development cooperation.
The two will sign a Memorandum of Understanding on the Labor Cooperation Agreement on Employment of Workers and Agreement on Border Crossing, according to Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The agreement reduces the current work-break period from three years to one month so that migrant workers will not have to return to Myanmar after working four years in Thailand, and then spend three years in their home country before they can return to work in Thailand, where they earn higher wages.
Another provision specifies that Thailand will issue a certificate of identity for migrant workers at designated nationality verification centers in Myanmar to allow unimpeded travel within Thailand and between the country and Myanmar.
The Migrant Workers Rights Network (MWRN), an organization for migrant workers from Myanmar who live and work mainly in Thailand, opposes the issuance of the certificates, arguing the process will be costly and prone to corruption.
After officials from Myanmar and Thailand met in February, Thailand began reissuing temporary “pink cards” to undocumented migrant workers and to those whose passports and work visas were about to expire, the Myanmar Times reported. They extended the validity of the cards for two years with a possible two-year renewal, giving migrants more time to obtain permanent legal documents from Myanmar.
The MOU also says the two countries will improve protections provided to Myanmar migrant workers entering Thailand legally, and will create a committee to finalize processes on the issuance of documents for migrant workers, migration costs, and measures to prevent exploitation.
The agreement also calls for the establishment of entry and departure centers to educate Myanmar migrant workers on Thailand’s customs, culture, and laws, and for migrant coordination centers to assist abused workers according to Thai law and procedures.
Myanmar puts the number of migrant workers living in Thailand at 4 million with only half legally registered to work there, while Thailand’s Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare puts the number at more than 1.4 million, with most from the Karen, Mon, and Shan ethnic minority groups.
Many migrant workers are at risk in Thailand of being trafficked as sex workers or for hard labor on fishing boats. Granting the largely undocumented Myanmar workforce in Thailand permanent status has been the subject of negotiations between the two countries.
Seafood industry workers
Aung San Suu Kyi, who also holds the title of foreign minister and minister of the President’s Office, will begin her three-day state visit in the Thai capital Bangkok.
She will then go to the heavily Myanmar-populated Mahachai district of central Thailand’s Samut Sakhon province outside Bangkok to address about 3,000 migrant laborers who work in the seafood industry.
Thirteen Thailand-based activist groups for workers have arranged for the migrant laborers to attend the meeting and ask Aung San Suu Kyi questions. About 500 people will be permitted inside the hall where she will speak, while the rest will watch her on large screens outside.
Many workers in Mahachai, one of Thailand’s main seafood distribution centers, are taking off work to hear Aung San Suu Kyi’s address and tell her that they want to be able to renew their passports in Thailand rather than have to travel back home to do so.
The workers say that the combined trip and renewal fee are costly, and that some have lost their jobs in Mahachai waiting for their documents to be processed in Myanmar.
In the meantime, local Thai authorities have cancelled Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit on Saturday to the Tham Hin refugee camp in Ratchaburi province, west of Bangkok, the online journal The Irrawaddy reported, citing sources close to the camp administration, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of issues concerning the camp.
No reason was given for the cancellation of the camp visit, the report said.
More than 6,000 Myanmar refugees live at the camp, which is the second-smallest of nine refugee camps along the Thailand-Myanmar border, it said.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.