Giles Ji Ungpakorn
Migrant workers in Thailand, like migrant workers in many other countries, face repression, poor working conditions, injustice and extortion.
In addition to the day light robbery committed by Thai employers and the corrupt and nasty police, government policies have always made life very difficult.
The Thai junta’s new regulation to crack-down on migrant workers means that they are now forced to jump through extra official hoops and pay even more money to the government for the “privilege” of working in shit jobs. Access to Thai health care is also dependent on this registration process.
The result of the new regulations was that thousands of migrant workers left the country in fear, causing temporary but severe shortages for the cold-hearted bosses of the fishing industry. Other dirty and low paid industries were also temporarily affected.
Some migrant workers posted photos on social media protesting about the excessive documentation and IDs they are required to obtain.
Thai governments have deliberately used the law to either criminalise much needed migrant workers or to “regularise” or “legalise” a minority of them by forcing them to pay high fees and to have the correct documents which are often beyond the reach of most migrants.
This is all designed to keep migrants in a permanent insecure state in order to exploit them. It is also designed to whip up racism and nationalism against migrants. The government knows very well that the economy depends on migrants and that many of them will inevitably be “illegal workers”. Such a policy of criminalising migrants and offering them costly so-called legal alternatives, allows employers to pay low wages and also allows the police, the military and other government officials to extract illegal payments from workers who cannot afford the legal route to employment.
Legal migrant workers are only allowed to work in the areas where they have specifically applied to work. They aren’t even allowed to travel freely throughout the country. Their lives are not dissimilar to the serfs of Europe who were tied to the landlord and not allowed to change their place of work or abode.
Previous Thai governments have put up posters claiming that illegal migrants are the cause of crimes and bring infectious diseases into the country. That such posters caused no controversy in Thai society shows the level of racism encouraged by the ruling class.
Migrant workers are also not allowed to belong to trade unions even when working alongside Thai workers in the same factories. This is an important issue upon which more trade unions should be focussing.
As Karl Marx once wrote: “This antagonism (towards the Irish) is the secret of the impotence of the English working class, despite its organisation. It is the secret by which the capitalist class maintains its power. And that class is fully aware of it.”
It could have been written about the relationship between Burmese workers and Thai workers.