General News - Tuesday December 18, 2007
RACE TO PARLIAMENT
Critic : Samut Sakhon candidates avoid alien labour issue
Samut Sakhon _ Candidates contesting the three House seats here have so far chosen not to explain their positions on migrant labour, fearing it could hurt their election chances, according to a local aid worker.
Human rights violations against migrant workers are common in the province as not only the employers, but also local authorities and job brokers, are exploiting them, according to Sompong Sakaew, director of the Labour Rights Promotion Network, a local non-profit organisation.
Samut Sakhon is home to 73,489 registered migrant workers. It is estimated there are twice as many non-registered, illegal migrant workers.
Over 95% of them are Burmese.
The province's largest revenue earner is the industrial sector and its success is dependent on the migrant labour force. Its import sector is also one of the nation's largest.
If the issue of labour rights violations is not handled properly, the economic impact could be huge on local people and the nation if buyers in European Union countries, the United States and Japan decide to boycott the country's exports in protest, said Mr Sompong.
But with the election this Sunday, no political parties or their candidates have yet mentioned a word about how they plan to deal with labour-related problems, he said.
"Politicians avoid talking about it because it is such a provocative issue," he said.
"They don't want to take a risk and lose a potential vote."
Some politicians also share vested interests with employers or are connected to them in other ways, he said.
Samut Sakhon's seafood processing industry is highly dependent on unskilled migrant workers to do the dirty and dangerous jobs of the fishing and related businesses, said Mr Sompong.
Many have been lured by sub-contracting agents to work on fishing trawlers which at times stay in Indonesian waters for years.
On top of that, they are forced to pay high commissions, which are later deducted from their wages, to get the jobs, he said.
Although registered workers have the right to access the country's healthcare services and are protected by the Thai labour law, local branches of state agencies lack the practical mechanisms and guidelines to enforce the law.
The situation is worse for their children and dependants, especially non-registered migrants who are vulnerable to arrests and deportation, he said.
Mr Sompong said the new government should allow the registration of more migrant workers so that the actual demand of employers can be met.
Suppasitr Nuantarnworachart, a member of a Legislative assembly committee drafting the migrant labour bill, said the new law would provide better rights protection and heavier punishment for human trafficking.
However, the problems would not go away if the state sector fails to tackle corruption among the local authorities involved in human trafficking themselves, he said.
The candidates do not talk about tackling the problems because voters here are unlikely to take this factor into account before casting their vote, he said.
Urai Kraiwatnussorn, a People Power party candidate whose family runs fishing and related businesses, said since it was a big issue, it needed to be handled at the national level, not local.
She defended the employers by saying that the exploitation of migrant workers may not be as serious as claimed by some groups.