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A Burmese migrant worker who accused her Thai employers of abuses was detained on Saturday for allegedly stealing her work time-card.
The woman, who was not identified by name, said she took the card to prove that she and other employees at a poultry farm in Lopburi Province, north of the Thai capital Bangkok, had been forced to work more than 15 hours a day.
Charges of theft were laid against her after she showed the card to the Migrant Workers Rights Network (MWRN), an advocacy group for Burmese nationals working in Thailand based in Mahachai, Samut Sakhon Province. She was released on 75,000 baht (US$2,125) bail soon after her arrest.
“The lady was put in a cell, so we had to urgently take action and bail her out that night,” said Andy Hall, MWRN’s international affairs advisor.
Thirteen other workers at the farm also reported abuses, including being forced to work long hours, being denied days off for more than a month at a time, and having to sleep in the same quarters as live chickens. They also said they worked an estimated 350 days a year.
The woman said she was paid just under 9,000 baht ($255) in May, but nearly 5,000 baht of this was deducted by her employer.
“These workers were very seriously abused for many years and were completely isolated and didn’t have any access to Internet or anything, said Hall. “Then, luckily, they learned about Facebook and they learned about MWRN and contacted us.”
The workers are currently under the care of MWRN and are each seeking 300,000 baht ($8,500) in compensation for years of alleged abuses.
Hall said MWRN is trying to help the workers reach a settlement with their former employers. “All of the 14 workers want compensation and they want to go back [to Burma] and see their families,” he added.
On her visit to Thailand last week, Burma’s State Counsellor and Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi pledged to work with Thai authorities to develop strong policies that protect migrant workers.
In a speech she made in Mahachai, she said, “The important thing is to ensure safety for our citizens and allow them to work.”
At a meeting with advocacy groups at the Burmese embassy on Saturday, Suu Kyi also singled out employment agencies that mistreat migrant workers. According to one person who attended the meeting, she vowed to take legal action against agencies that abused Burmese workers abroad.
“They are exploiting the [migrant community] — that is the only way to put it,” she was reported as saying, noting that the agencies exist in both Thailand and in Burma.
Last year European NGOs Swedwatch and Finnwatch released a report that exposed substandard working conditions and abusive employers in Thailand’s lucrative poultry-meat industry. Debt-bondage and the withholding of personal documents were major issues cited in the report, which was based on interviews with 98 migrants.
MWRN is also calling on Thai authorities to investigate Thailand’s poultry supply chain and improve the working conditions of migrant workers.
Speaking to DVB on Monday, the group said that the owner of the chicken farm in Lopburi is refusing to take part in negotiations towards a settlement with the 14 allegedly abused workers at a meeting at the local labour protection office in Samut Sakhon tomorrow.