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Another poultry farm worker faces charges

Poultry farm workers are still waiting to receive compensation (Photo: MWRN)

A second Burmese poultry farm worker is to be charged with stealing a time-card from his workplace in Thailand, as the case against his former employer attracts attention from an international advocacy group fighting modern slavery.

Twenty-seven year-old Chu Chang follows in the footsteps of his co-worker Ye Ye, also a Burmese migrant worker, who admitted to taking the time-card which she intended to use as evidence that she was working 15-hour days, and that the chicken farm in question was actively exploiting its workers.

This is the latest development in a compensation claim that 14 migrant workers lodged in June against the Thammakaset Farm 2 in Lopburi, some 150 kilometres north of the Thai capital Bangkok.

Ye Ye, 33, is also to face charges on an additional offence of conspiring with an employee to commit theft from an employer.

“I couldn’t keep quiet about the way we were treated any longer. I’m happy to stand up for myself and my co-workers. Hopefully we will receive the wages we are owed,” she told Bangkok-based Migrant Workers Rights Network (MWRN).

For over two weeks, the 14 migrant workers say they have been in limbo waiting for their compensation claim to progress.

“There have only been negative developments with the additional worker being charged,” said Andy Hall, the international representative of MWRN.

Hall noted that the workers are now entirely dependent on MWRN and the local migrant community for protection and financial support, and that neither the government authorities nor Thailand’s poultry association, which has vowed to improve oversight to prevent future abuses, have provided any assistance.

Leading Thai food company Betagro, which was one of the farm’s main customers, has also failed to come forward with offers of help, he said.

Meanwhile, a campaign was launched today by anti-slavery advocacy group Walk Free calling on the Betagro CEO, Vanus Taepaisitphongse, to immediately ensure that all 14 workers from Thammakaset Farm 2 are paid compensation in line with Thai labour laws.

Campaign Director Zoe Birchall said, “The horrific conditions experienced by the 14 workers in Thammakaset Farm 2 include some of the very worse situations we can imagine: abusive treatment, exhaustive hours, and despicable work conditions. This exploitation sets the scene for modern slavery to flourish.”

Betagro has suspended business with the farm in question; however, both Hall and Birchall say this doesn’t address the exploitation of workers at the bottom of the supply chain.

“Instead we urge Betagro to work closely with its suppliers to ensure all workers are fairly treated … to investigate working conditions in all its poultry supply chains in order to resolve further uncovered cases of exploitation and ensure all workers are able to raise grievances,” said Birchall.

Since the escape of the 14 workers, other reports of similar exploitation in Thai chicken factories have been reported to Walk Free. Birchall said the industry needs widespread reform

“This indicates the level of exploitation in the Thai poultry industry is more extensive than originally imagined, suggesting that modern slavery may be widespread,” she told DVB.

Another poultry worker from the farm, Akey, said she is relieved she escaped, and wants to return home to Burma as soon as possible. “Working at that farm in Lopburi made me feel sad. I had to kill 200, 300, sometimes 500 chickens in a day. I want to go home,” she said.

Last week, DVB reported that several major tuna-exporting companies could also be linked to the Thammakaset Farm 2.

Attempts by DVB to elicit a response from Betagro have so far proved fruitless.

It is estimated that some two million Burmese migrants are currently working in Thailand, many of them illegally, and mostly in the lowly paid construction, agriculture and fisheries industries.