Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - Several Burmese migrant workers in Thailand have been forced to return home, after being laid off by companies that are reeling under the impact of the global financial meltdown.
Moe Swe from Yaung Chi Oo, a group based in Thailand’s Mae Sot town and helping migrant workers in the area told Mizzima that several small factories, which had a large number of Burmese migrants as employees, in the town have been forced to shut down in recent months as they were no longer receiving orders for their product.
“Last week, there were three cases where workers informed us, their employers shut down the factories and fled without paying worker’s wages,” Moe Swe said. “However, they’re still looking for a job for their survival but it is difficult at the moment.”
Aye, a staff at the Migrant Assistant Program (MAP) in Mae Sot office also added that the employment situation in Mae Sot is getting worse by the day.
“Each month more than 300 [legal] workers from Burma are becoming unemployed because of the economic crisis that has affected business,” he said.
According to MAP, there are about 140 factories operating in Mae Sot, where more than 20,000 workers from Burma, who are registered with Thailand’s Ministry of Labour, are working. But many more are unregistered and work in smaller business establishments.
Most factories mainly produce textiles and are waiting for orders from abroad, particularly the United States, where the current global financial crisis began.
A Thai local official in Mae Sot, requesting anonymity, confirmed that hundreds of workers returned home from the border, which is close to Karen State of Burma. He, however, could not give any figures.
Similarly, in Southern Thailand, where workers from Burma are hired to work in rubber plantations and construction sites, are also faced with a worsening situation.
Doungjai Kaewkan, an owner of a rubber plantation in Krabi Province in Southern Thailand said the decrease in rubber price made her reduce the number of workers in the plantation as she could no longer afford to pay their wages.
In Chiang Mai, a city in Northern Thailand, where the situation of migrant workers has been bad since last month, similar problems have arisen among Burmese migrants.
“My employer cut my salary because his income has also decreased, but I still want to work in Thailand and send back money to my family in Burma,” an Ethnic Shan shop assistant told Mizzima.
There are an estimated of over two million migrant workers, both registered and unregistered, from neighbouring countries in Thailand.
Recently, Thailand’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Kasit Piromya, after a visit to Ranong Province, bordering Burma’s Kawthaung Township, said the Thai government wants to push the policy of bringing in workers ‘legally’ from neighbouring countries, according to the Foreign Ministry’s website.
Thai government has signed memorandum of understanding with Lao, Cambodia and Burma since 2007 to reorganize and document workers from these countries in Thailand by verifying their nationality and issue visa and work permit systematically.
The procedure for Laotian and Cambodian workers progressed a lot but for Burma there has been little headway. A majority of workers did not want to cross the border for documentation because of the difficulties in travelling to the checkpoint and fear that they could not return to work in Thailand.