Rights advocates call for migrant workers employed as domestic helpers to be given priority for Covid-19 jabs
Rights advocates call for migrant workers employed as domestic helpers to be given priority for Covid-19 jabs

Maids and other domestic workers from Myanmar, Cambodia and other neighboring countries should get priority in coronavirus vaccinations as they are at increased risk of contracting Covid-19 on the job in Thailand, rights advocates have said.

Many of the estimated 100,000 migrant workers employed as domestic helpers have contracted the potentially deadly disease from their employers and some have been fired as a result, according to the Migrant Network Group.

Foreign domestic helpers frequently care for elderly and other medically vulnerable locals, which means that reducing the chance of infections in households is of primary importance as Thailand is experiencing a severe Covid-19 outbreak, representatives of the labor rights group said during an online discussion on Aug. 17. 

“We are rushing to roll out vaccines for target groups such as the elderly. Yet we have no policy to take care of their helpers who work in close contact with them,” said Adisorn Kerdmongkol, a research officer at the group.

In addition, many prospective employers in Thailand request proof of vaccination from migrants applying for jobs as domestic helpers, but most migrant laborers have had no way of gaining access to vaccines, rights advocates say.

Thailand is in the grip of a raging outbreak of the novel coronavirus largely as a result of the highly infectious Delta variant, which was first detected in India earlier this year.

To date, more than 1 million people in Thailand have been infected, the vast majority of them over the past few months, and 8,826 people have died as of Friday.

A mass-vaccination drive was launched by the government in early June, but the project has been mired in controversy from the start owing to a chronic shortage of vaccines and the frequently questionable allocation of available doses. 

As of Aug. 17, fewer than 5.3 million people, or just under 8 percent of the country’s 69 million citizens, had been fully vaccinated, while nearly 18.4 million people had received a first dose.

Millions of Thais, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, have so far been unable to gain access to vaccines.

Most migrant workers have been in a similar situation, although tens of thousands of those that work in factories owned by influential Thai conglomerates have been vaccinated.

Rights advocates have repeatedly called on the Labor Ministry to allocate vaccines for migrant workers employed in high-risk occupations such as domestic helpers.

Complicating matters for many foreign-born domestic helpers, who invariably come from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds, is that they routinely lack health insurance and any form of social benefits because they are employed illegally, rights advocates say.

“Domestic workers are vulnerable to mistreatment and abuse,” says the Thailand Development Research Institute, a public policy think tank.

“Even though domestic workers are protected under the law, monitoring and enforcing the law in households are almost impossible. It has been argued that only about 20 percent of employers actually comply with the regulations.”

This story first appeared in UCA News, a Bangkok Herald partner.