Thailand: Voices from the factory

01 January 2013

JRS has been working with migrants, like Rose, in Mae Sot since 2006 to assist with livelihoods for vulnerable communities.

Mae Sot, 31 December 2012 — Thailand is home to hundreds of thousands of Burmese migrant workers, and more than 100,000 of them are employed in Mae Sot’s factories.

Rose*, 28, originally from Taunggyi in southern Shan state of Myanmar, was brought to Mae Sot by her father when she was 12 years old. At the age of 13, a broker took her to Bangkok to work in a noodle shop where she earned 1,000 THB, or US $34, per month.

Three years later, after getting married and becoming pregnant with her first child, Rose returned to Mae Sot to escape the anxiety of being arrested that migrants face daily in Bangkok.

Rose’s experience is not unique. Poe Poe*, 18, from Phyu township in eastern Myanmar, has been worked in a garment factory since the age of 13.

Long working hours without breaks and sick leave, the struggle to save money, and the absence of proper safety standards and labour rights characterise the experience of Rose, Poe Poe, and that of thousands of other migrant workers, in Thailand.

Work conditions

Rose cleans the floors and tables of a garment factory for 150 baht per day, roughly US $5, for more than ten hours of work each day. For every one hour that the workers are late to their shifts, they are deducted three hours of wages. Similarly, the consequence of missing one day of work is three days of work without pay.

Yet Rose is grateful for her job.

“I like to work here because I [receive] good payment,” she told JRS Mae Sot staff. But she admits that economic difficulties are a constant source of stress.

“I still need money to pay my children’s education,” she said. “I once paid an agent 4,500 baht to bring me back to Bangkok by walking through the jungle [so I could find a higher income job].  We were cheated and left in the middle of nowhere,” she says, disappointment brimming in her eyes.

But Rose is one of the lucky ones who has never felt endangered in the factory. Her work place maintains a sound reputation of good management.

“I never felt unsafe although [cleaning floors and tables] is not a comfortable job,” Rose affirmed.

Poe Poe, on the other hand, works in a different garment factory and feels unprotected in the dormitory, as there are not any separate lavatories or showers for women. Although she has not been physically attacked, Poe Poe feels unsafe when taking a shower as she is often watched by men.

In addition, the equipment in the factory is not always safe as the older sewing machines used to make the garments are dangerous, according to Poe Poe.

“The owner hasn’t paid attention, but we are really afraid to use those machines…The new workers handle the old machines because they have no choice,” she said.

Labour rights

In 2012, JRS Mae Sot supported two group discussions lead by the Overseas Irrawaddy Association for migrant workers on labour rights.

“Our rights are not fully respected because we are not given enough breaks,” said Rose.

Poe Poe sews for more than ten hours per day without stopping.

“We don’t have enough rest. It’s not fair at all,” she said.

Although she wants to find another job, she feels trapped because her parents stay with her in the factory.

“I really want…better conditions and higher payment, but if I quit, my parents will have no place to stay,” Poe Poe said.

Both Poe Poe and Rose hold onto dreams about returning to their hometowns in Myanmar to farm.

“I like to stay in Thailand because it’s safe and there are many ways to earn. However, if my parents who currently stay in Myawaddy want to go back to Taunggyi, I will go with them. We still have available land to do farming,” said Rose.

“If I can save money, I will take my family back home to do crop farming. There, we’ll have a happy life,” Poe Poe sighed.

*Names have been changed to protect identity.

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