Regional Workers Need More Protection, Advocate Says

Thailand says it will go through with the expulsion of workers who fail to go through the documentation process, perhaps as early as March.

WASHINGTON DC - With Thailand threatening to oust undocumented workers, Asean must do more as a region to protect its migrant workers, a leading rights advocate says.

More and more workers are crossing the borders between Asean countries, and the region looking to lower trade barriers, so workers need protection more than ever, Ya Navuth, executive director of the rights group Caram, told “Hello VOA” on Thursday.

Thai authorities say they plan to kick out illegal workers in the near future. That would include some 160,000 Cambodians. But employers seek out the undocumented, because they can pay them less, reduce their benefits and not worry about their working environments, Ya Navuth said.

So protection in the form of documentation is a good thing, he said.

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“It’s better to have a law that can ban employers from hiring undocumented workers,” he said. “Asean can implement it in various member nations. If they can do that, Thailand can do it, and there will be no more illegal migrant workers.”

Workers themselves also need to be informed, in order to protect themselves, he said.

“The information workers need to know are the conditions in the host countries, work conditions, what the wages are, what they will be doing, and where, what problems former workers have faced, and especially they should know the policies on migrant workers in those countries,” he said.

Migrant workers risk detention, human trafficking and other abuse, so they must be careful, he said. Still, many Cambodians feel they have no choice. There are no local jobs, they have no job skills, and their farm yields barely keep them afloat, he said. That makes them easy prey for middlemen, who promise higher wages and easy jobs, he said.

Meanwhile, Thailand says it will go through with the expulsion of workers who fail to go through the documentation process, perhaps as early as March. That could affect up to 1 million workers. In response, Prime Minister Hun Sen has called on local garment factories to improve their conditions, to prevent workers seeking work in neighboring countries.