Migrant workers find heaven and hope in Thailand

national May 01, 2014 00:00


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WHILE THAI WORKERS are expected to voice grievances over low pay against the rising cost of living today, many migrant workers continue struggling to make ends meet with little complaint. For these workers from Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos, Thailand is a st

“Poverty brought me here,” said Chai, 27, who left Cambodia three years ago. “I have children and a wife to take care of. I want to save up so my children get good education and a better life.” 
Chai, who works at a construction site on Bang Na-Trat Road, explained that there were few jobs available in Cambodia and most of them paid very little, compared with Thailand, where there are plenty of well-paid jobs. 
“I want to be a Thai national,” he said, adding that the minimum daily wage in Cambodia was Bt100, compared with Bt300 in Thailand. 
But it is not all sunshine and rainbows working here. Chai said he was cheated on his very first day and is sometimes not paid for work done. But he said he had no choice, and when he is not paid as promised, he moves on. 
Chai is one of the 2.2 million migrant workers in Thailand. 
Solah Por, 24, moved from Myanmar five years ago and now works at a restaurant on Bang Na-Trat. He says he overcame the language barrier thanks to his kind employer who taught him Thai, and in a year he was almost fluent. When he was 17, his parents told him to come to Thailand for a job because there were no opportunities in Myanmar. Over the past five years, he has only returned home twice. 
“I was looking for a factory job, when I met Auntie [his employer] and she hired me. Life in Thailand is comfortable. At first I missed home, but now I don’t,” he added.
Saknarong Payungsak, a representative of a Myanmar workers’ organisation in Thailand, said migrant workers were cheated often and many were paid less than the Bt300 legal minimum daily wage. Initially, when the minimum wage was Bt150-Bt200, many workers earned extra from overtime. Now, however, overtime work has dried up and they can barely make ends meet. 
“Yet if they complain, they face threats, which terrifies them,” he said. 
Raks Thai Foundation official Wanna Butseng, who oversees migrant workers in the east coastal area, namely Trat and Chanthaburi provinces, said there were some 50,000 migrant workers in the area, mostly Cambodians from Koh Kong and Mon people from Myanmar. However, only about 10,000 of them hold legal documents, she said. 
Most of these workers are in the fishery and farming sectors, and their most common problems are drug abuse, alcoholism and fist-fighting. 
“If these workers have kind employers, they are happy, but if there is any problem, they can just cross the border and go home,” she said. 

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