HomeEquality & Justice'Open to exploitation': Migrant workers in Thai agricultural sector

‘Open to exploitation’: Migrant workers in Thai agricultural sector

Migrant workers in Thailand’s agricultural sector are often faced with long working hours, low pay, poor labor conditions, and a tenuous legal status that leaves them open to exploitation.

Mekong Migration Network, a subregional network of civil society organizations, reported those conclusions following a 2-year study from 2017-19.

The report, ‘Migrant Agricultural Workers in Thailand’, surveyed 328 Myanmar and Cambodians working on cassava, corn, palm oil, and rubber plantations in Phang Nga, Rayong, Surat Thani, and Tak provinces.

The report found that they had systematically experienced sub-minimum wage labor; long working hours; discrimination; inadequate accommodation; restricted freedom of movement; limited access to schools, hospitals, and other forms of social protection; insufficient and inadequate personal protective equipment; lack of access to formal justice systems; and harassments from elements within rural communities.

More than half of those surveyed were undocumented workers, while “a general consensus” was found among respondents that costs associated with acquiring all of the valid paperwork were prohibitively high.

Some 87 percent of those working on rubber plantations worked over eight hours a day, and 40 percent said they worked over 12 hours a day. By contrast, corn, cassava, and palm oil plantation workers did not report working in excess of 12 hours.

Nearly a third of respondents said they received no paid time off. Approximately 46 percent of corn plantation workers earned less than $149 a month, while other plantation workers earned $149-298 a month.

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On average, their pay is half that of Thailand’s daily minimum wage of 350 Thai baht ($11.25 dollars).

“We get very low wages working in agriculture in Mae Sot. Our daily wage is 150 baht, and 200 baht if we are able to drive trucks. This is not enough to support our daily lives … we need help to negotiate with our employers for a higher wage,” Win Zaw Oo, an agricultural migrant worker, told those gathered at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Bangkok, Thailand for the launch of the report on Jan. 30.

A file image of Myanmar migrant workers aged 12 years and above sickle harvesting green beans on a farm at Pop Pra, Tak, Thailand on Nov. 18, 2015. (shutterstock.com photo)

While 61 percent of migrants said they had access to Thailand’s national healthcare system, 47 percent their children had no such access. Reports of employers trying to skirt healthcare costs and other compensatory benefits were widely reported. Only six percent of people were covered by Thailand’s social security system.

Perilous working conditions, along with inadequate housing and an inability to seek legal and other protections, stood in sharp relief to the hopes many migrants had when seeking to work in Thailand.

“Migrant agricultural workers come to Thailand for a better life, but they cannot afford to send their children to school or register for legal status in Thailand,” Sutthisak Rungrueangphasuk, from the Mae Sot based MAP Foundation, said at the Foreign Correspondents Club event.

“Migrants live and work in hard-to-reach places and their housing conditions are not good.”

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