The deaths of more than 50 Burmese migrants last week in a sealed container truck transporting them to illicit jobs in southern Thailand starkly illustrates the growing reliance Thailand places on unofficial labor to help run its economy.
The Thai authorities acknowledge that there may be 1 million Burmese migrant workers living in Thailand, yet Thailands Migrant Assistance Program recently recorded that only 367,834 were registered with work permits in 2007.
Various NGOs campaigning for the rights of abused minorities and refugees say the number of illegal Burmese in Thailand is closer to 1.5 million. Many of them are children.
The Migrant Worker Group, a coalition of NGOs pressing for human rights, documents many instances of abuse by employers.
The MWG estimates that illegal Burmese laborers, especially in the booming construction industry, are paid up to 50 percent less than Thai unskilled labor and have no rights.
Migrant workers are very badly regarded and very badly treated by Thai society, wrote academic and former Thai Senator Jon Ungphakorn in the Bangkok Post. Yet it is hard to imagine how our economy would manage without them.
Ungphakorn says that since illegal laborers are not taking jobs away from Thais they should all be given legal status and employment rights.
Boot, W. (2008, April 19). Weekly Business Roundup. The Irrawaddy. Retrieved April 23, 2008 from http://www.irrawaddy.org/article.php?art_id=11461&page=1