‘Unhappy and Want to Go Home’ – Survey on Burmese Migrant Workers

 | Thu 19 Dec 2013 10:34 ICT

CityNews – The International Organization of Migration (IOM) released the results of their survey on Burmese migrant workers currently employed in Thailand. They found that almost four out of five Burmese migrants want to go home, especially because of the progressive political and economic changes happening in Myanmar.

Traditional Thai fishing boats.

Out of the estimated 3.5 million migrant workers in Thailand, who come from countries such as Laos and Cambodia among others, it is believed that only 1.9 million of them are legally permitted to work in Thailand. Burmese migrant workers in Thailand are estimated to be around 2.3 million, with the two largest groups being Mon (almost 27%) and Shan (19%).

The organization interviewed over 5,000 workers in the seven provinces that employ the largest number of migrants. They found that 80% wish to return home to Myanmar, and 41% hope to do so in the next few years. This raises concerns with the business community of Thailand, who have expressed worries that the flight of Burmese workers would damage the fishing and construction industries, which rely heavily on Burmese migrant workers.

The wages of Burmese migrant workers range from less than 150 baht a day (less than half the minimum daily wage of 300 baht), mainly in the agriculture sector and in Northern provinces, to at least minimum wage or higher in the Southern provinces. Migrant workers from all backgrounds are more likely to stay in Thailand if they can stay legally, enjoy satisfactory working conditions, and earn better incomes.

Unless Thailand does more to accommodate the Burmese migrant workers it is so desperate to keep, the country will face a labour shortage of 5.36 million workers by 2025, according to the National Office of the Economic and Social Development Board.

Even though Thailand raised minimum wages in the country earlier this year to 300 baht a day, while the minimum daily wage in Myanmar is about 18 baht (literally 58 cents in US Dollars), Burmese migrant workers are still largely unsatisfied with living and working in Thailand.

They cite low incomes, discrimination, unreasonable working conditions (including working seven days a week or working in extremely dangerous scenarios), as well as fear of the police and the government, especially if they are unable to obtain legal work permits. There are also many cases of employers withholding their salaries or passports, or exploiting them in other ways, like imprisoning them or forcing them into prostitution.

The IOM also reported that 2013 has been the most dangerous year for migrants of many nationalities trying to reach other countries in search of a better life. As 7,000 people have died worldwide, many of them anonymously, while travelling to other countries by land or ocean.

In the case of Thailand, countless Burmese migrant workers have perished at sea over the years, over packed in their ill-equipped boats, with a good number of them still unidentified to this day.