For immediate release on 3 March 2023
Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF) and Department of Provincial Administration’s special operations taskforce
Rescuing 14 Myanmar migrant employees in sugar cane plantation in Kanchanaburi
Being subjected to employer’s physical abuse and forced labour
On 1 March 2023, officials of the special operations taskforce under the Department of Provincial Administration (DOPA) and staff from the Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF) have rescued 14 Myanmar migrant employees, ten men and four women, who had been forced to harvest sugar cane in Moo 9, Tambon Ban Kao, Muang District, Kanchanaburi. Previously, officials of the special operations taskforce under the Department of Provincial Administration had conducted an inquiry and found the employer could be held accountable for committing forced labour or services pursuant to Section 6/1 of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act B.E. 2551 and other legal offences, although the employer had absconded. The employer later contacted DOPA’s special operations taskforce promising to turn himself in on the following day.
The rescue operation was predicated on the incidence on 19 February 2023 when one Myanmar migrant employee had contacted and asked for help from HRDF’s staff in its Samut Sakhon Chapter since his employer threatened him with a physical abuse, refused to pay his wage, forced him to work, and withheld his personal documents making it impossible for him to run away.
According to what the Myanmar migrant employee had told HRDF, he was deceived by an agent that he could land a job at a cattle farm. Upon his arrival here, it turned out to be a sugar cane plantation from which he could not escape since the employer retained all his personal documents and threatened that “If you run away, and cannot do so successfully, you’ll be shot to death.” During the course of work for his employer, he and other workers would be woken up at 4.00am. If they did not comply, the employer would just barge in and pour water on them. They had to work from 05.00 – 17.00 to harvest sugar cane for the employer. He had no idea how much he would get paid and had never received the payment in full. Each week, the employer would give each worker 500 baht, enough for food and basic spendings. They were told that they were supposed to service debts by having their wage deducted. Whenever the payment for food was made, the employer would place on the table either a knife or a gun. And then the workers asked about the wage, they would get verbally abused and get thrown at with a book.
On 19 February 2023, they refused to come out to work since they were trying to negotiate to retrieve their mobile phones being seized by the employer. The employer just flung the door open and used a cane machete to tear down their mosquito nets and pour water on them. All 14 of them were forced to sit by each other in front of their room. They would spot that one of the persons by the employer was holding in his hand a firearm. He and other six male workers were hit at their heads by the employer’s cane machete a couple of times. The strike was so hard that it caused their heads to swell and inflicted an injury. The employer even threatened that “Will you start working, or will you want to go to jail?” Given their fear, the 14 of them had to get on the vehicle to resume the harvesting of sugar cane.
On the following day, the employee has thus asked for help from HRDF since he was forced to work unwillingly and wanted to run away from the employer who physically abused them. HRDF has thus reached out to the Governing Officer’s Law Enforcement Operation Center and the Investigation and Legal Affairs Bureau under the Department of Provincial Administration, Ministry of Interior to ask for help to urgently rescue the 14 employees since they could be subjected to an unsafe situation and forced labour.
During the rescue operation, HRDF deems that all effort should be made to offer help to the victims based on the guidelines stipulated in the action plan on National Referral Mechanism (NRM), cases management, victim protection, and forced labour B.E. 2565. This includes immediate protection of welfare and the provision of Reflection Period (RP) during which time, the competent officials may explore any indications that the persons could have been a victim of trafficking in person or forced labour. In such case, the officials may arrange for the presumed victims to have physical examination and mental observation until the presumed victims are ready and until sufficient information and evidence could be acquired to establish the elements of crime of trafficking in person or forced labour after which the formal victim screening process can be conducted. The approach focusses on protecting the victims taking the victim-centered approach and aims to pursue an effective prosecution of the offenders. In addition, concerned authorities should acquire more facts to hold all persons concerned accountable including those responsible for the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt and complicit with the commission of the offence.
The Human Rights and Development Foundation continues to offer legal assistance to the victims and works in tandem with concerned authorities and the judicial process to protect the victims through to the end of the legal proceeding.
For more information, please contact Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF)