For immediate release on 7 August 2020
A call for the enforcement of Thailand’s Social Security Act
towards employers of migrant workers in the Special Economic Zone
It has been reported that on 5 August 2020, migrant workers from Myanmar demonstrated in front of a factory in Mae Sot District to demand the reopening of their factory since it has been shut down for almost two months during the Covid-19 outbreak. The factory’s shutdown has caused the workers to lose their income leaving them with no money for their daily living and having to endure grave hardship.1 The workers have no access to any relief funds from the government or from any law.
In 2014, the National Council for Peace (NCPO) approved the proposal to designate Mae Sot District and adjacent areas in Tak Province to be a Special Economic Zone. Criteria and methods to draw in migrant workers from Myanmar to support the investment in the Special Economic Zone have also been approved.
The Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF) has found employers have capitalized on the Royal Ordinance Concerning the Management of Foreign Workers’ Employment 2017’s Section 64 to recruit and employ migrant workers in the SEZ. The law allows employers to employ workers from countries which share the border with Thailand including Myanmar and such workers are allowed to work here temporarily using just border passes, otherwise known as commuter or seasonal migrant workers. But in reality, the workers have been employed as regular workers to perform the work for a longer period of time which is not commuter or seasonal migrant work. They are subject to a 90-day employment contracts which are automatically renewed. This tactic is used to make the workers ineligible for labour protection including the minimum wage. They shall receive no severance pay when laid off by their employers and are denied payment when their employers’ enterprises are temporarily closed. They are also denied access to various benefits per the Social Security Act since their employers have failed to register them as insured persons, as reported in July 2019 (https://news.ch7.com/detail/363343).
It became much blatantly clear during the Covid-19 outbreak when many workplaces have been shut down temporarily and permanently, as employees, both Thai and migrant, have been laid off or furloughed. Even if the government has come up with measures to help the embattled employees who are eligible to unemployment benefits if they are insured under the social security system, but the migrant workers in Mae Sot District who have been employed invoking the Royal Ordinance Concerning the Management of Foreign Workers’ Employment 2017’s Section 64 have no access to such unemployment benefits, even though they practically have to work similar to regular and permanent workers in textile, garment or ceramic sectors.
In a letter dated 7 May 2020 to HRDF, the Tak Social Security Office insists that it is incumbent on the employers to submit a name list of insured persons to register their migrant workers under the social security system as required by Sections 33 and 34 of the Social Security Act. But insofar, the employers have failed to act in compliance with the law. And it has led to much suffering among the workers as a result of the shutdown of the plants and it has prompted them to take to the street to demand justice including the case of the textile workers aforementioned.
The Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF) therefore calls on the Ministry of Labour’s Social Security Office and concerned authorities to act as follows;
- The Ministry of Labour and the Social Security Office should proactively instruct competent officials to execute their duties including by invoking their power per Section 80 of the Social Security Act 1990 to review and ensure the employers submit a name list of insured persons who are “employees” per Section 5 and are not exempted by Section 4 of the Social Security Act. This should include workers who are employed invoking the Royal Ordinance Concerning the Management of Foreign Workers’ Employment 2017’s Section 64 since they in reality are not engaged in temporary or seasonal work. Their status of insured persons should be certified from the first day of their employment to ensure the workers are entitled to benefits provided for in the Social Security Act 1990.
- The Ministry of Labour should urgently publicize information about the criteria and methods to apply for unemployment benefits among the migrant workers. The documents should be made available in the languages understood by the workers. This is to reiterate the spirit of legal protection warranted by all workers with no discrimination as enshrined in the International Labour Organization Convention no. 111 and to ensure all migrant workers in all enterprises, regardless of the types of their employment contracts, have access to the benefits as insured persons under the Social Security Act 1990.
- Officials of the Ministry of Labour and the Social Security Office should take legal action against the employers who have failed or have avoided to act in compliance with the legal protection pursuant to the labour protection law and the Social Security Act.
Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF)