Myanmar-Burma Labour Minister Myint Thein “Migrant labour conditions slowly improving”

With industrial development still some years off in Myanmar, Nyapyidaw’s concern at present is to ensure that migrant workers receive standard rights protection, because their remittances have helped shape the growing economy, Myanmar Deputy Labour Minister Myint Thein said in Bangkok on Friday.

Migrant workers from neighboring countries use sewing machines on a production line at a clothing company in Bangkok. (Photo EPA)

At his first press conference with Bangkok-based media, Myint Thein took a taken positive but realistic view of the situation of Myanmar workers in Thailand.

“Certainly there are lots of problems. There are about two million of our people working here. For the documented workers, it’s easier for us to raise their problems with the Thai authorities, but for the undocumented workers it’s still difficult,” he said.

Myint Thein said that access to information about the migrant workers’ situation has been much better in recent  years. Not only have Thai officials been more cooperative, but information from multilateral organisations and non-government organisations has helped highlight their circumstances.

“There has been some improvement. Before I could talk only with people in the Mahachai [Samut Sakhon]  cases, but now we get more information on problems elsewhere such as in Songkhla and Kanchanaburi,” Myanmar’s deputy labour minister said.

He was speaking after a meeting with the Thai deputy labour minister, vice minister for foreign affairs and head of the immigration bureau to clear the last hurdle for a nationality verification and passport-visa issuing office to finally begin working.

The first Thaksin administration initiated the nationality verification process with Myanmar in 2004 and a year later Myanmar gradually sent officials to work with Thai officials at Kawthaung (opposite Ranong), Tachilek (bordering Chiang Rai) and Myawaddy (bordering Tak).
From 2005 to 2009, about 750,000 passports were issued to workers from Myanmar, Myint Thein said.
Myanmar’s Deputy Labour Minister Myint Thein (Photos by Patipat Janthong)

Another 750,000 migrant workers were waiting to complete the nationality verification process. However, there remained another 500,000 undocumented workers who have yet to be included in the  process, he said.

Resolving the migrant problems was a cumbersome and difficult process, he conceded. His government on March 30 last year set up a special committee co-chaired by labour and border affairs ministers to tackle internal and overseas migration issues.

After Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s visit to Myanmar in October last year, President Thein Sein agreed to send another five teams to work inside Thailand to facilitate this migrant management  process.

Yet, the procedures inside Thai bureaucracy had delayed the promised opening in February of the five centres — in Bangkok, Samut Prakan, Surat Thani, Samut Sakhon and Chiang Mai. However the final hurdles were cleared away during his three-day visit, which ends today.

Before his departure, he went to see the first-day of operations at the Samut Prakan and Bangkok centres.

Myint Thein remained hopeful that Myanmar would continue with efforts to resolve the undocumented workers problem when officials from the two sides meet again in Myanmar next month.

The agenda at the May meeting will also include a request for a relaxation of Thailand’s immigration procedures to permit the stay of migrant workers’ children, consideration of seasonal migrants and actual reduction of visa fees for workers from 2,000 to 500 baht as previously agreed upon.

He agreed hat solving migrant  problems would in a way also address human trafficking problems, but was quick to note that this issue required diplomatic efforts by both sides.

“Certainly, Asean’s integration in 2015 will see a freer flow of people inside the region. So there needs harmonisation for sending and receiving countries (to deal with this). Talks have already begun but more has to be done.

“”On our side, plans of action are being drafted with the assistance of such agencies as the UN Development Programme, the International Organisation of Migration, and World Vision, anothers.

“But problems keep cropping up and we have to deal with those immediate issues as well,” he said.

Asked about the European Union’s decision tosupend sanctions for one year, Myint Thein said any revocation of sanctions by the US or EU would certainly bring positive effects to workers inside Myanmar, since it would create more opportunities for business.

However, it would still take some time before the industrial development was properly up and running. In the meantime, a modest calculation of the remittance by over three million migrant workers abroad showed that each migrant sent at least US$100 back home every month. So annually, over $2.5 billion was propping up the Myanmar economy, he said.

“You can calculate how much the migrant workers in Thailand send to their families each year,” said Myint Thein implicitly referring to the reason why Myanmar authorities needed to respond to the migrant problems in Thailand.

Although he was assured by the Pattana Seafood chairman that the problems of migrant workers would be addressed when he visited Mahachai on Wednesday,  the Myanmar deputy labour minister sent Bangkok-based labour attaché Kyaw Kyaw Linn to Songkhla today to monitor the situation.

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