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Migrant Assistance Programme marks International Migrants’ Day

 

Migrant Assistance Programme marks International Migrants’ Day

Elena Edwards
All of us in Chiang Mai must surely be aware of the huge number of Burmese and other migrants who live and work in the city and its surrounding areas. We see them working everywhere - on building sites, in factories, in gas stations, in the fields, in stores, everywhere cheap labour is required. And we see their children, as we wait in our cars at traffic lights, selling floral garlands for 20 baht each.
Many of us who have had houses built will have been very aware of the conditions in which they live, as many developers erect tiny, ramshackle huts for their workers on site. Even more of us may be employing a migrant as a maid. But, how many of us are truly aware of the unsafe and unhealthy conditions in which the majority work, and of the dangers and discriminatory practices they endure? And were we even aware that International Migrants’ Day (IMD) existed?
The Migrant Assistance Programme Foundation (MAP) here in Chiang Mai is, of course, very aware of all the above, and recently marked IMD with an event that included the showing of an animated documentary entitled ‘P.O.S.H. Migrant Workers are Safe Migrant Workers.’ P.O.S.H. stands for Promoting Occupational Safety and Health, a concept which is badly needed.
The short cartoon, part of a series developed by the MAP foundation, depicts various scenarios - in factories, in agriculture and in other types of menial work, in which migrant workers find themselves at risk without protective clothing or a safe environment. It aims to introduce the subject in a ‘fun’ way, and to stimulate discussions and awareness about ways to stay safe in dangerous working environments.
The showing, held at CMU’s UNISERVE building, attracted a number of migrant workers and representatives from local NGO’s. Sai Mon, a migrant construction worker from Shan State, addressed the audience prior to the screening of the animation to confirm that such incidents frequently occurred. “I witnessed my Burmese co-worker get killed when a falling brick hit him on the head. We were never given hard hats or safety equipment,” he said.
Another Shan migrant worker, Nang Than Swe, told how she had been working as a maid in Thailand since she was a child. “I don’t even have my own room to sleep in,” she said. “I have to sleep in the dining room. I don’t feel that I have any security.”
She earns 3,500 baht per month, and has to work every day, all day, until the house owner (who often stays out until after midnight and expects her to cook for him when he returns), goes to bed.
Estimates show that there are between 1 and 1.5 million Burmese workers in Thailand, working for lower wages than locals and receiving no benefits. In total, including many Cambodian and Laotian migrants smuggled into Thailand to feed the cheap labour market, around 2 million foreign labourers live and work in unsafe and unhealthy conditions.
At the showing, Jackie Pollock, one of the event’s organisers, stated, “We want to give Burmese migrants a voice, and let them tell the audience what they feel. We also want to give them a day off!”