Millions of Burmese nationals immigrate to the neighbouring Thailand in search of work due to economic hardship in Burma and the ongoing civil war. It is estimated that the population of Burmese migrant workers in Thailand is as many as 4 million people. Migrant women from Burma perform various types of labour intensive work in Thailand, including domestic work and factory work, but they are not paid a living wage. Migrant women face a double discrimination—for being a migrant, and being a woman.
The Wage Committee of the Ministry of Labour in Thailand announced in 2013 that migrant workers are entitled to the minimum wage of 300 Baht (USD 8.5) per day. The minimum wage is not sufficient to provide a decent life. On the other hand, the living wage is carefully calculated for workers and family members to lead a decent life with respectable living conditions. The living wage is the only fair wage and is a human right.
Meet Ma Ma, a 20-year-old Burmese woman migrant worker who came to work in a seafood factory in Mahar Chai, Thailand. Due to the drought, she was unable to work on her family’s land. She came to Thailand with a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Thailand and the Burma Government. She had to pay 650,000 Kyats (USD 520) service and training fees to an agent in Burma and around 10,000 Baht (USD 285) to an agent in Thailand for a visa and miscellaneous fees to get a job to secure her employment.
Ma Ma was assigned a job in a seafood factory, where she earns the minimum wage (300 Baht). The task she was assigned is the least desired in the whole factory. Ma Ma fillets fish and has wounds on her hands constantly. She is bonded to the factory for two full years under the MOU. She is not alone in facing these unacceptable and inhumane working conditions in Thailand. There are millions of other Burmese migrant women workers who also work with or without an MOU in Thailand. Many women migrant workers live in poor housing conditions and survive on a basic diet so that they are able to send money back home.
Migrant women not only contribute to Thai society by engaging in labour intensive jobs but also boost Burma’s economy by sending remittances to their families inside Burma. The governments of Thailand and Myanmar need to consider living wage as a human right and work together for the wage to become a reality for the migrant community. The Thailand government has not yet ratified Convention C143 and C97 that protect migrant the Thai government to ratify these conventions and give migrant workers a living wage.
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