Thursday, February 25, 2010
Life gets harder for Thailand’s guest-workers
Feb 25th 2010 | BANGKOK | From The Economist print edition
THEY sew bras, peel shrimps, build blocks of flats and haul fishing-nets. In return, migrant workers in Thailand are paid poorly, if at all, and face exploitation and abuse at the hands of employers and the security forces. Up to 3m migrants, many undocumented and mostly from Myanmar, fall into this category. So a scheme to start registering this workforce and bring it into the legal fold sounds like a step forward. Migrants have been ordered to apply to their home countries for special passports so that they can work legally in Thailand and, in theory, enjoy access to public services, such as health care.
But the plan has run into practical and political difficulties, mostly among workers from Myanmar, who rightly fear their awful government and do not want to return home, even temporarily. Many are unaware of the registration drive. So the first applicants have come mostly from migrants from Laos and Cambodia, where the authorities are more willing to help.
The Thai government says 400,000 Myanmar nationals have so far joined the process. Under pressure, the Thai government has reportedly modified its original deadline of February 28th for filing papers. Now that is the deadline only for migrants to fill in a form agreeing to go through the “nationality verification” process. They have until the end of March to submit forms to their home government.
But Thailand has not lifted its threat to arrest and deport migrants who do not comply by the new deadline. The government apparently believes that unregistered foreigners are a security threat. This raises the spectre of mass expulsions on a scale not seen since the 1990s. Jorge Bustamante, a United Nations official in Geneva dealing with migrant rights, has said that this would breach Thailand’s human-rights obligations, since workers might also be asylum-seekers.
This argument is unlikely to sway a government that shows increasing contempt for refugees. In December it expelled more than 4,000 Hmong to Laos, including 158 refugees recognised as such by the UN. Most were packed off to a remote camp. A Thai-government spokesman has claimed that the 158 refugees were happy to be in Laos. Foreign diplomats in Bangkok, still fuming over the expulsion, doubt it.
Kicking out millions of migrants who do dirty, low-paid jobs would be unpopular with Thai companies. Too few locals are willing to take their place. Garment factories in Thai-Myanmar border towns such as Mae Sot would probably go bankrupt if they had to offer decent wages and benefits. Fisheries and plantations also depend on imported labour. The government, however, believes that deported workers would soon be replaced by others eager to escape misery in Myanmar.
Not all foreign workers are under the radar; over 1.3m migrants registered in 2009 for work permits under the old system. These are the workers whose nationality Thailand wants to verify first, before tackling the rest. But being a legal migrant in Thailand confers few benefits. Workers are still at the mercy of employers who can cheat them of their wages and dismiss them summarily. Complaining can be futile or worse. Workers face extortion, rape and even murder by the very officials supposed to be protecting them, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), a watchdog that this week released a report on the abuses suffered by migrants. It noted that officials treat them like “walking ATMs”.
There is little reason to believe that holding a special passport would protect migrants from rapacious cops and stingy employers, says HRW’s Phil Robertson. Migrants will still be unable to travel freely or organise into unions. In some provinces it is illegal for them to use mobile phones. Labour-inspectors pay little heed.
Employers have the upper hand and can keep down labour costs, but at a price to Thailand’s competitiveness. Surveys of Thai workers show a steady decline in their productivity, says Pracha Vasuprasat, an expert on migration at the International Labour Organisation. An abundance of poorly paid migrants means less incentive to upgrade to a more skilled workforce. Thailand’s is not the only Asian economy hooked on cheap labour. Neighbouring Malaysia also depends on millions of guest-workers. So much so that its home minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, has suggested that, to lessen the dependence, political refugees be allowed to work.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
- Ko Samui - Ko Samui is very well known and the two best known beaches there are Chaweng and Lamae But there is a more secluded beach known as Silver Beach, better known by its official name, Tong Takien. It’s suitable for families and well worth a visit if you’re on Ko Samui Island, which is located in the Gulf of Thailand.
- Phuket – Phuket is highly developed, and if you’re on a beach the chances are that you will be surrounded by scores of other holidaymakers and plenty of touts selling you anything from squid, friend chicken, shrimp, watches, clothes, and much more. Most of these items are going to be a lot cheaper if you take the time to go to a proper market, particularly in Bangkok, but if something catches your eye there and then, they’ll be pleased to oblige. Surin beach is one to watch out for in particular, where you can enjoy a nice swim in the sea.
- Ko Phi Phi - Ko Phi Phi is comprised of two islands, and not far from Krabi on the Andaman Sea. It’s about a two-hour ferry ride from Krabi. The beach to look out for is Tonsai Bay, which is extremely stunning.
- Ko Samet – Ko Samet is about an hour past Pattaya on the Gulf of Thailand, and it has a famous beach known as Diamond beach, with a second name of Crystal Sand Beach. It’s a really beautiful beach not far from Bangkok, and popular with city dwellers on the weekends who need to escape the bustling metropolis to enjoy sand and sea.
- Krabi – Krabi has its own excellent beach, called Ao Nang. You need to get to the southern part of it to enjoy the best scenery there. Krabi has all the restaurants and services you would ever need, and faces the Andaman Sea. Venture further south and you will find Noppharat Thara, which is a national park with its own spectacular beach scenery. This is an ideal family beach, and you can walk to three islands just offshore when the tide is low.
- Ko Tao – This is the island to get away from it all, and also a diver’s paradise. The beach to visit here is Sairee beach, where you can feel like you really are in another world.
- Prachuap Khiri Khan – Near the border of Myanamar is one of the best and least tourist visited beaches in Thailand called Ao Manao, or Lemon Beach. Great for family holidays this beach is well worth a special visit, and one of Thailand’s jewels.
- Ko Chang – Elephant island as it is called is the second biggest island in Thailand and located near the border of Cambodia. There are a great selection of beaches on its west coast. The White Sand beach is one of the most popular on the island.
- Pattaya – the beach in Pattaya is not one of Thailand’s finest by any stretch of the imagination, but you can take a short ferry ride to one of the nearby islands and enjoy much better beaches for swimming and splashing about. Pattaya is well known for other things that may or may not appeal: be fully aware of what to expect before setting out.
- Hua Hin - Hua Hin is a developed resort with some fine hotels and a long stretch of beach. The more commercial beach isn’t that great, but it is still highly popular among visitors and suitable for families. There are some other nearby prettier beaches to be discovered, and Hua Hin is a great place to relax in one of its fine resort hotels. People come to Hua Hin because it’s a great town and it’s well maintained, as it’s the main residence of the King of Thailand.