As another week of work wraps up on a Friday, Jea Sai Tot and Sai Som arrive in a community centre in Thailand’s Chanthaburi province.
“I heard from others that there’s going to be an activity here today, where we could learn about labour laws in Thailand,” says Sai. “I want to know what my rights are as a migrant worker,” echoes Jea Sai.
Hailing from the same family in Cambodia, Sai and Jea Sai migrated to Thailand six years ago in search of greener pastures. They currently work together in an orchard farm.
Along the Thai-Cambodian border, Chanthaburi is home to many of the estimated 1.2 million Cambodian migrants* working in construction, agriculture, fisheries, food and other sectors. Many migrants arrive in Thailand lacking accurate information on migration processes, employment procedures, rights and entitlements, are often challenged by language barriers – leaving them vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.
Sai and Jea Sai are gathered with two dozen other Cambodian migrant workers, including Sen Vee, who hails from the same province.
Sen also moved to Thailand six years ago. “I have a child to take care of and some debts to pay off,” he explains, echoing the stories of numerous Cambodians searching for better livelihood across the border.
All three received word of an outreach activity organized by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Department of Labour Protection and Welfare (DLPW) – one of the 10 activities organized in Chanthaburi between March to September 2022, on a range of themes aimed at enhancing migrant workers’ access to information.
Sen came to learn, among other things, the process of returning back home to Cambodia for short visits. He had heard, mistakenly, that one needed to make payments to authorities to cross the border and back.
“Many migrant workers are reliant on information provided to us by our employers,” Jea Sai remarks, demonstrating the vast information disparity migrants often face.
The outreach activities are aimed at providing an opportunity for migrants to interact with government authorities, ask questions and air their concerns. “We see that many of them want to learn more about labour laws, government services, policies on due compensation, and other similar topics,” explains IOM’s Panuwat Boonyanan.
Previous outreach activities were organized around COVID-19 prevention, available health services, and the risks of trafficking and exploitation, among others. Two-way communication serves as the foundation for the outreach, with activities designed based on an assessment of the information gaps and needs in each community visited.
Saing, a migrant leader working for a non-government organization that supports migrants, attests to the importance of creating such platforms to strengthen dialogue between migrant workers and authorities. “We mostly see issues regarding late salary payments, passports being withheld, unfair termination.”
“There is so much information going around – we didn’t know what was true and what was not, until today,” expresses Jea Sai.
Almost 600 kilometres from Chanthaburi, at the opposite end of the country, roughly a dozen migrants from Myanmar are gathered in a community centre in Mae Sot, Tak Province, for a similar activity.
Addressing the heightened vulnerability to exploitation, both as a result of the pandemic and instability in Myanmar, IOM and the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security organized an information session with migrant leaders on trafficking in persons – including how to identify and report suspected cases.
A Tae has been in Mae Sot since 2001 and has become a trusted source of information, especially for newly arrived migrants. She recalls her early days in Mae Sot, having only a few family members in town and not knowing where to access accurate information on employment.
Now an active community volunteer working with civil society organizations, A Tae feels it is her responsibility to disseminate information that can help protect others. “After this session, I can talk to my kids and other parents, help them know how to be safe, and that they shouldn’t believe everything from strangers,” she says. “Maybe some people might not be interested to listen, but we have to try. It takes time to improve awareness.”
A Tae’s close friend, Nwe Nwe Lwin, shares the same perspective – having lived in Mae Sot for 25 years. “We need to help others who migrate from Myanmar. What we learned today has to be shared with our communities. Some people don’t even understand the concept of trafficking.”
In total, over 460 migrants benefitted from 20 outreach activities in Chanthaburi and Tak Provinces since March.
As COVID-related restrictions loosen and borders reopen, labour migration from neighbouring countries to Thailand is resuming at a larger scale. The need for constant communication and engagement with migrant communities will grow more vital.
Migrants like A Tae and Nwe Nwe, who are well-integrated into Thai society after decades, are playing an increasingly important role in guiding other migrants on where to seek information and assistance.
For others, like Sen Vee, comprehending employment procedures for migrants is a day-to-day challenge he is striving to overcome, with the help of more established migrants in his community. “I see myself here for another five years, earning as much as I can while making sure I follow all the correct processes.”
When accurate, up-to-date and language-sensitive, information can serve as a lifeline that empowers migrants, protects them and upholds their rights.
*Figures from the Ministry of Labour as of June 2022
Outreach activities were made possible through the Asia Regional Migration Program, funded by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.
This story was written by Miko Alazas, IOM’s Media and Communications Officer in Thailand.