MANY, IF NOT MOST, migrant workers in Thailand feel insecure and exploited under the country’s existing welfare schemes.
After 13 years in Thailand, Nay Zaw Moe has seen several Myanmar workers lose their limbs at work and yet get no compensation that they are entitled to.
“They are properly registered,” the Myanmar driver said at a recent seminar.
The problem, authorities believe, is that the workers’ dishonest employers failed to submit financial contributions to the scheme and lied to the migrants.
But even if those migrants had been properly registered and covered, they could have lost the benefits that they should have received in their later years.
Taking monthly contributions from workers, employers and the Thai government, the current social security scheme offers several benefits, including pension to its members. But most migrants are unlikely to receive these pension benefits because the odds are that they will have returned to their homeland by then. Furthermore, if they die after returning home, their families will have to jump through complicated hoops if they want to claim the benefits they are entitled to.
Pakpoom Sawangkhum, technical officer of Raks Thai Foundation, lamented that even when migrants have worked in Thailand for a long time, they often find it difficult to seek medical care at the hospital designated to them under the healthcare package that they are required to pay into.
This package offers free comprehensive healthcare, but migrants often change jobs and have difficulty returning for services at the hospital they were assigned to in the first place, he said at the seminar.
Raks Thai Foundation held the seminar on Sunday in Mahachai, Samut Sakhon, to raise awareness of the need for relevant authorities to work harder to ensure that the rights of migrant workers are respected.
“When the price of rubber drops, they move from rubber plantations to fishing boats. Then to factories, to construction sites, and so on, depending on where the wages are higher,” he explained.
According to Pakpoom, the healthcare package migrants are required to buy – if they do not join the social security scheme – comes at a relatively high price in relation to the low wages paid to labourers. For two years of coverage, each migrant must pay Bt3,200.
“This is a big sum of money for migrant workers to pay at one time,” he said.
He believes the Thai government should go back to the old welfare scheme for migrants, which offered them a year’s coverage for Bt1,600.
The longer insurance period |is also a financial burden on employers, especially if workers changed jobs in a few months, said Chinchai Satirayakorn, head of the National Fisheries Association of Thailand.
He said most workers on his fishing boats breached their contracts. They came via Thailand-Myanmar agreements to work for a year on boats, but left early to find better jobs in factories.
Dr Surapong Areeyapitipan, head of Samut Sakhon’s Public Health Office, took note of the many problems migrants face in enrolling for Thailand’s welfare schemes.
He also confirmed that some employers avoided making monthly contributions to the Social Security Fund or failed to report cases of migrant workers having workplace accidents.
Surapong pointed to another problem: the fund, which was initially designed for Thai residents, does not reflect the needs of migrant workers. Contributing to a pension, for example, does not benefit migrant workers who often work for a short time in Thailand before returning home, he said.
There are an estimated 5 million migrant workers in Thailand, according to the International Organisation for Migrants. Of these, only 3 million are properly registered, while the remainder work illegally and have no access to welfare.