Migrant workers are said to work long hours for wages that fail to meet their basic needs

Migrant workers are said to work long hours for wages that fail to meet their basic needs

A study into the working conditions of migrants from Myanmar (Burma) in the Thai apparel industry suggests the workers are typically paid less than the legal minimum wage - a practice known as "wage theft".

On top of this, research released today (18 December) to mark the United Nations International Migrant Day, claims workers are also denied the right to collective bargaining and minimum social security.

Although migrant workers are currently entitled to the minimum wage of THB300 (EUR7.27) a day, they are typically paid between THB150-180 (EUR3.6-4.36) per day, according to interviews carried out by the MAP Foundation worker rights group. The sum of THB300 also falls short of a living wage, and is insufficient to sustain a worker and her family, the NGO says.

"The research we conducted illustrates just how badly migrant workers are treated. They are working long hours for wages that do not even meet their basic needs. Thai labour laws are violated as there is little enforcement from labour agencies and because of migrants' precarious state," said Brahm Press, executive director of MAP Foundation.

On average, migrants work almost 11 hours a day, and sometimes between 12-16 hours during peak periods or deadlines, the research showed. Yet, they only receive on average around THB16 (EUR0.40) per hour or less, when legally they should be receiving THB56 (EUR1.42) per hour for overtime. One person, an 18 year-old female, was paid as little as THB100 (EUR2.4) per day, and another was paid only THB120 (EUR2.9) per day.

A focal point of garment production in Thailand is located in Mae Sot, Tak Province, roughly 500km northwest of Bangkok on the border with Myanmar - where many facilities are sub-subcontractors for factories in central Thailand.

By focusing production in border towns, the garment industry can easily hire migrant workers, labour activists say. However, many of the migrants are undocumented, which increases their vulnerability to exploitation and limits their ability to leave the factory compounds. Those who do have documents often have them withheld by the employer.

The total number of migrants thought to be working in the Mae Sot area is between 200,000 - 300,000. Only 30,000 migrants are currently registered with work permits in this area with the rest being undocumented. Some 60,000-80,000 migrants are estimated to be working in knitting and garment factories with possibly 70% women.