Thai Migrant Worker Camp Burmese Cambodian

Migrants who work at construction sites in Bangkok have been left to their own devices without any help from the government following a moratorium on all construction work during a raging Covid-19 outbreak, according to labor-rights advocates.

After construction sites were closed in July to stop the spread of the disease, migrant workers in the capital and its environs have been required to stay inside their overcrowded camps.

However, despite government promises that they would receive food and other essentials, many of these foreign workers from Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos have been left to fend for themselves, activists say.

Unlike their Thai counterparts, migrant workers are not entitled to Covid-19 vaccination and social benefits.

Migrants sickened with Covid-19 have often failed to receive adequate medical care in a timely manner, according to activists. Many were forced to get well on their own.

“The authorities may have succeeded in shutting down the building sites, but they failed to limit the spread of the disease,” said Suthep U-on, a member of parliament for the liberal Move Forward Party.

Thailand, which employs several million migrants from neighboring countries, has long been faulted for ignoring the rights of these laborers, the vast majority of whom work in construction, agriculture, fishing, food processing and other labor-intensive sectors.

A locked-down migrant worker construction camp in Bangkok.
A locked-down migrant worker construction camp in Bangkok.

Rights activists have for years accused Thailand’s government of turning a blind eye to the routine exploitation and outright abuse of migrant workers.

“Despite the efforts made to ensure the protection of migrant workers, many remain vulnerable and assume significant risk during the migration process,” observed the United Nations-affiliated International Organization for Migration.

“Many migrants and their families, especially those who migrate irregularly, are particularly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation due to their precarious legal status,” the IOM added.

Numerous migrant laborers are required to work for 12 hours a day or more for minimal wages in unsanitary conditions, according to rights groups and testimonials from migrants.

“The workers have to accept any condition [imposed by their employers],” said Adisorn Keadmongkol, manager and coordinator at the Bangkok-based Migrant Working Group, an NGO that advocates for the rights of migrants.

“It’s a condition that they cannot bargain. They have to do it to keep the relationship with employers to save their jobs,” Adisorn added.

In addition, many migrant workers end up in situations that border on slavery.

“Not only are Thailand’s migrant workers susceptible to discrimination but they can be coerced into paying high recruitment fees on the way from their home country to secure a job,” explained Darian McBain, director of corporate affairs and sustainability at Thai Union.

“This means migrants seeking legal employment might find themselves deeply indebted before the work begins — buried in debt that often takes years to repay.”

The original version of this story first appeared in UCA News, a Bangkok Herald partner.