Thai police working together with labor rights advocates freed 19 migrant workers, some still in their teens, from an ice factory early this month after one of the migrants escaped and described to police the conditions in which they were being held.
The freed workers, who included six Lao nationals and 13 Cambodians, had been forced to live in the factory and were made to work long hours for little pay, with some threatened at knife-point by a guard hired by their employer, the workers told an RFA reporter accompanying police.
Among the Lao workers freed in the Feb. 16 raid were two young women, both 18, who had already worked in the factory for more than two years, they said, adding that they had been lured from their home town in Saravan province by a Lao labor broker promising well-paid work as housemaids in Thailand.
“The broker said that I would have a good job with good pay,” one young woman told RFA’s Lao Service in an interview. “Things did not turn out like that, though at first we worked as housemaids and were paid six thousand baht [U.S. $190] per month.”
While confined in the factory, though, they were paid only 150 to 170 baht (U.S. $4.76 to $5.40) per day, while male workers, including three Lao boys under 17 years of age from Laos’s Champassak province, were paid a daily wage of from 220 to 270 baht (U.S. $6.99 to $8.58).
All were housed in a room surrounded by wire fencing to prevent escapes, and were forced to work from 5:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. with only day off per month, the workers told members of the team who rescued them.
'All were abused'
Also speaking to RFA, a member of the LPN group accompanying the police raid on the factory in Thailand’s Nonthaburi province said that all workers held at the ice works had been abused.
“We discovered that none of them had any documents,” Smark Thupthani, head of LPN’s anti-trafficking section, said.
“And all of them had been treated as badly as human trafficking victims. All the male workers confirmed that one of their employer’s men had often threatened them with a knife,” Smark said, adding that wages paid to the workers were far under the amounts required by law.
Police have now charged the workers’ employer with six violations of their rights, including forced confinement, work beyond legally allowable hours, pay below the minimum wage, and the use of illegal labor, Smark said.
Workers often exploited
According to Thailand’s Ministry of Labour, there are around 170,000 Lao workers working legally in the country out of around 2.7 million documented migrant workers, mainly from Myanmar and Cambodia.
While the ministry does not provide figures for undocumented workers from specific countries, it estimates that 2 million migrants are working in Thailand without papers. Reports suggest that more than 200,000 of those illegal migrant workers are from Laos.
Thailand has been widely criticized by rights groups for its treatment of migrant workers, who are often exploited by unscrupulous employers and labor brokers.
“Thailand is a source, destination, and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking,” the U.S. State Department said in its 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report.
Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Manichanh Phimpachanh. Written in Engish by Richard Finney.