The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected migrant workers, including women migrant domestic workers who hold low-paying, insecure and informal jobs. They are also among the most vulnerable when crises hit and face significant barriers in accessing social protection. The pandemic, thus, has also highlighted the need for extending social protection for migrant domestic workers living and working in Thailand.
Kyan Par, a 45-year-old woman from Myanmar, is a live-in migrant domestic worker in Bangkok. She left Myanmar and travelled to Thailand at the age of 17 to begin her life as a domestic worker, following a similar journey of many other migrant workers from her hometown. Twenty eight years gone by, thanks to her work, Kyan Par is now a proud breadwinner for her family and in pursuit of her dream for a brighter future - “one day, I will go home to own a shophouse and open it for rent” said Kyan Par.
Domestic workers: an important part of many families in Thailand for decades
In Thailand, domestic work is a growing sector that is not only vital in providing care and welfare for many households, but also in making considerable contributions to the national economy and society at large. As a main migration destination country in the region, domestic work in Thailand is also increasingly undertaken by migrant workers. There were 107,357 migrant domestic workers in Thailand in 2020, compared to 67,149 in 20191. These numbers, however, exclude undocumented migrant workers who are not counted in official statistics. The majority of migrant domestic workers are women from Myanmar. Like Kyan Par, domestic workers in Thailand are vital for the economy outside the households to function. With cleaning, cooking and caring support from domestic workers, many are able to go to work and generate income. Remittances from migrant domestic workers are also a major source of livelihood support for their families back home. Kyan Par is now paid THB 25,000 per month, and she sends between THB 6,000 to 10,000 back home on a monthly basis.
Migrant domestic workers have no access to social security
Despite their contributions to the individual households and the national economy, domestic workers, in particularly migrant domestic workers, remain undervalued and have limited to no access to social security provisions.
Unlike her Thai peers who have an option to voluntarily enroll and have access to benefits under the Article 40 of the Social Security Fund ranging from cash compensation for the loss of income in case of non-occupational sickness, injury or disability to funeral grants and death allowance, retirement benefits and child allowance depending on the amount of contributions2, there is no path to social security for Kyan Par; the Article 40 applies to Thai nationals only.
As a migrant domestic worker in Thailand, Kyan Par is only entitled for the Migrant Health Insurance Scheme (MHIS) – a government health care scheme for non-occupational sickness and injury. Although the MHIS helps paying her medical bills when she visits the hospital, its limited coverage is far from enough. Kyan Par wishes she could be enrolled in the Article 33 of the Social Security Fund3, a compulsory social protection scheme that would allow her to enjoy seven types of benefits: non-occupational illness or injury; disability; death; child allowance; retirement; unemployment compensation; and among others, maternity protection.
“No maternity protection for domestic workers is unfair since the majority of us are women of childbearing age who are likely to become pregnant while being employed” said Kyan Par. “Without maternity protection, if we become pregnant, we will lose our job. Employers will not wait for us” shares Kyan Par.
In addition, Kyan Par notes that age is one of the main limitations to working as a domestic worker. Now, aged 45 years old, Kyan Par admits that it is becoming difficult for her to find a job as a domestic worker. If she were eligible for the Article 33 of the Social Security Fund, Kyan Par believes she would have access to support after completing her employment, such as for example retirement fund.
Social protection for all to build a better future
Kyan Par has joined a network of domestic workers in Thailand under HomeNet, an NGO supporting home-based workers across Thailand. Within this network, she has now become a leader of migrant domestic workers. Through this network, Kyan Par and her peers learn, share and support each other to speak up and raise awareness of migrant domestic workers about their rights.
“Domestic workers are no longer unskilled. I can speak fluent English, Myanmar and Thai. I can cook. We are valuable, our work is valuable. And just like any other workers, we should also have the right to social security; our right to a better life,” emphasizes Kyan Par.
Kyan Par’s story is one of the thousands that urge for the need for social protection and right to decent work for migrant domestic workers. All domestic workers, Thai and migrant, should be able to access a national social protection with guaranteed health care and social benefits throughout the life cycle, including for emergency responses such as the current COVID-19 pandemic. Equality of treatment is enshrined in international human rights instruments and labour standards. Today marks the 10th anniversary of the International Labour Organization Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers, 2011 (No. 189), the first international labour standard to guarantee domestic workers the same basic rights, including social security, as those available to other workers.
IOM, ILO, UNICEF and UN Women are implementing the United Nations Joint Programme (UNJP) “Accelerating Progress Towards an Integrated and Modernized Social Protection for All in Thailand” funded by the Joint SDG Fund. The Joint Programme aims to support the Royal Thai Government to increase social protection coverage towards universality by scaling and extending coverage to specific vulnerable groups including Thai and migrant domestic workers, through sustainable social protection intervention, contributing to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda in Thailand for the benefit of all. For more information about the Joint SDG Fund, please visit: www.jointsdgfund.org
1. Statistics from the Office of Foreign Workers Administration under the Ministry of Labour: https://www.doe.go.th/prd/assets/upload/files/alien_th/92b4db8c387f4b3360691e24f11ae4c9.pdf
2. Article 40 of the SSF is voluntary social protection scheme for self-employees or employees in the informal sector. To apply for the Article 40, a person must be Thai, or a holder of the Non-Thai Identification Card with the first digit of the card number is 0, 6 or 7. Article 40 provides different packages of the benefits depending on the amount of contribution, which will be paid on a monthly basis by both the insured and the government. For more information, please visit the Social Security Office website at https://www.sso.go.th/wpr/
3. Article 33 of the SSF is compulsory social protection scheme for Thai and non-Thai employees who are currently working in a formal work establishment with at least one employee, except for those specified by the ministerial regulations. Contributions under the Article 33 are paid on a monthly basis by the insured person, employer and government. For more information, please visit the Social Security Office website at https://www.sso.go.th/wpr/