Published on July 16, 2020

Watching over migrant workers

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to have widespread effects on the economy and workforce in Thailand, migrant workers are among the worst affected by this unprecedented global health crisis.

Thailand is home to an estimated four million migrant workers. Most of them come from neighbouring Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam (CLMV).

Migrants are an essential part of the Thai economy, driving growth and productivity in many of Thailand's key sectors including construction, manufacturing and hospitality. Supporting these sectors -- and protecting the migrants they employ -- will be critical to Thailand's resilience and recovery.

The Joint Standing Committee on Commerce, Industry and Banking in Thailand says that an estimated one million construction workers will lose their jobs by June because of shutdowns from the pandemic, many of whom are migrant workers. With the slowdown of tourism in the country, along with the closure of restaurants and bars, thousands more migrants across other sectors of the economy have been affected.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that between 150,000–200,000 migrant workers from CLMV who were suddenly made jobless decided to return to their home countries. But not all migrants were able to do so and have been left in an uncertain and dire situation with limited resources.

The Thai government has made concerted efforts to put measures in place to protect migrant workers, in recognition of their heightened health and economic security risks.

The government now recognises people suspected or infected with Covid-19 to be emergency patients who are eligible to receive tests and treatment at no cost, regardless of nationality.

The cabinet also introduced various compensation plans for workers whose jobs have been affected by the pandemic and related government measures. These plans cover migrant workers who have contributed to the Social Security Fund for six months or more.

Perhaps most notably, migrants from CLMV who are on registered name lists have been granted permission to stay up to 30 Nov. This is a good practice and an example for the world on how to provide protection and dignity to migrants during these challenging times.

But despite these positive steps, there are still many more migrant workers at risk of falling through the cracks.

The critical concern now are those workers who have lost their jobs as a consequence of the crisis and have found themselves stranded in Thailand without any income and with little or no access to housing, food and other basic needs. They are simply unable to return home.

Compensation measures mainly benefit workers who are formally employed. This excludes many migrants in informal employment who are not able to enrol in the Social Security Fund, such as domestic workers.

Irregular migrants, migrants in the informal sector and migrants who have lost their job and are not able to return home due to increasing travel restrictions are in need of urgent assistance.

Many employers are not equipped to implement effective infection prevention measures -- ensuring migrants have clean and hygienic living conditions. Access to soap, clean water and masks, as well as spaces in which to self-quarantine are all essential steps to ensuring Thailand recovers from this crisis.

It is unclear whether migrant communities are receiving sufficient information about Covid-19 or have access to the resources which will allow them to maintain the hygiene and sanitation standards required for effective protection.

To fill this data gap and inform possible responses, the IOM is conducting surveys and assessments in coordination with other UN agencies and local stakeholders to gauge the needs, conditions and challenges faced by migrant workers and communities to better inform the Thai government on how to assist these populations. The results will be released on Friday.

In the coming months, when borders start to re-open and full economic activity eventually resumes, there may be a period of increased risk to workers from neighbouring countries seeking to return.

Businesses may face significant labour force gaps and will seek to fill them quickly when they resume operations. So it is essential that effective monitoring mechanisms of ethical recruitment practices are in place. To support this, the IOM recently rolled out its Covid-19 Guidance for Employers, which includes advice on how to ensure ethical recruitment during periods of crisis and how to handle the return of migrant workers.

The Covid-19 pandemic highlights the need to effectively take up the plight of migrant workers during a crisis. Let's use this understanding to ensure migrants are not left behind, not just in times of crisis, but also during times of prosperity.


Originally published on Bangkok Post