Hans & Tamar Oppenheimer Chair in Public International Law

6 May 2012

Experiences of Myanmar Migrant Workers in Thailand with the MoU Import Process

Andy Hall, Mahidol Migration Centre

In June 2003, a Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of the Kingdom of Thailand and the Government of the Union of Myanmar on Cooperation in the Employment of Workers (MoU) was signed to promote formal procedures for employment and protection of Myanmar workers in Thailand and to undermine irregular migration and the negative consequences associated. Procedures to integrate irregular Myanmar workers already in Thailand were also agreed upon. In 2009, six years after the MoU, few signs of its implementation existed as almost all migrants from Myanmar in Thailand had entered into the country irregularly and were deemed ‘illegal,’ despite over 1 million documented through registration amnesties. From 2009 to 2012 however, a nationality verification (NV) programme was undertaken by the Myanmar Government and currently around 600, 000 workers from Myanmar who had previously registered now have temporary passports and are ‘legal.’ There has also been a significant increase in workers entering into Thailand ‘legally,’ almost all via the Kawthaung/Ranong border crossing in Southern Thailand. Around 15, 000 workers have already entered legally into Thailand from Myanmar with 5, 000 alone entering in February 2012.

Currently there is increased focus by policy makers in Thailand and Myanmar on legal import processes for workers as a solution to more than two decades of irregular migration and also a means to ensure both greater rights protection and also prevent smuggling and trafficking in persons. But there has been little exploration and evaluation of the processes involved and, despite the potential benefits to migrants and employer of legal import processes over irregular migration, there continues to be a lack of regulation of the process with exploitation occurring regularly and systematically.

This report explores and analyses background data on the MoU process from a desk review, a focus group and informal interviews with stakeholders involved alongside documenting experiences of 6 migrant workers from Myanmar who entered into Thailand legally and one case study of the Phatthana factory abuse case. An analysis particularly of the challenges faced by the MoU import process is presented here to draw attention of both the Governments of Myanmar and Thailand to the need for improvements to be made.

This report recommends that, whilst the MoU process is commendable as a measure to overcome challenges associated with irregular migration, both the Myanmar and Thailand governments should urgently re-evaluate the process to address the weaknesses in its existing implementation. This report specifically recommends that:

  1. Individuals/agents involved in the MoU process should be regulated through a transparent system of accountability, registration and supervision
  2. Costs of the MoU process should be significantly reduced and Thai employers should bear financial responsibility rather than shifting the burden to workers, as required by the model employment contract
  3. Effective recruitment of workers should be undertaken using public awareness raising in Myanmar and amongst existing Myanmar migrants and their communities in Thailand
  4. Information campaigns for the general public and pre departure training for departing migrants should be implemented to ensure workers understand employment contract, costs and the general situation in Thailand
  5. Workers’ temporary passports, Thai work permits, Myanmar national ID cards and Myanmar labour cards should not be confiscated by anyone as these are the personal property of the worker
  6. Migrants entering Thailand legally should not have their residence status tied only to one employer and they should be allowed to change employers to prevent forced labour conditions arising
  7. No restrictions should be placed on the freedom of movement of migrants legally coming into Thailand
  8. The MoU process should be made simpler and quicker to avoid long waiting time for migrants at borders and alternatives to using border areas only should be considered to reduce cost and distance travelled
  9. All workers should be given their employment country in a language they understand and its contents should be properly explained to them before signing
  10. Myanmar should provide effective consular services to migrants in Thailand and advertise this assistance
  11. Arrangements should be made between both countries to avoid multiple health checks

Once regular migration becomes more cost effective, comfortable and safer than irregular migration for all those involved, only then will the aims of the MoU between Myanmar and Thailand be genuinely met.

To view the complete report:

PDF - 458.5 kb
Andy Hall - Experiences of Myanmar Migrant Workers in Thailand with the MoU Import Process
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