Report from JRS Asia Pasific in Thailand

Patcharin Nawichai, JRS Mae Sot Project Director
Dana MacLean, JRS Asia Pacific Communications

1. Let’s get rid of Landmines
  April 4 is the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action, when thousands of people in more than 70 countries remember the survivors and communities affected by landmines and call for an end to the curse of anti-personnel mines.
  Thailand wants all landmines cleared by 2018 in accord with the deadlines set out in article five of the Mine Ban Treaty.
  In 2001, Thailand had around 2,557 square km of mine-affected areas. After 10 years of de-mining by NGOs like the Thailand Mine Action Center (TMAC), around 528 square km of suspected and confirmed hazardous areas are now left to be cleared, according to the Level 1 Survey by Norwegian People’s Aid.
  ”Raising awareness and providing assistance for mine action and victims is very important. Thailand has made significant progress over the past 13 years. The survivors’ life quality has improved significantly, but some of my friends still cannot get easy access to specialized services. We sincerely hope that the effort will continue and that victims on the ground will be more greatly benefited by this. I don’t want to see any more new victims in Thailand in the future,” said the leader of the Pong Nam Ron Landmine Survivor Network in Chanthaburi province, Chusak Saelee.
Source: JRS Asia Pacific Web: THAILAND, “Today is the day to push for clearing 500km of mines”

2. Voices from the factory
January 1, 2013
JRS has been working with migrants in Mae Sot since 2006 to assist with livelihoods for vulnerable communities
Mae Sot, 31 December 2012 —   Thailand is home to hundreds of thousands of Burmese migrant workers, more than 100,000 of whom are employed in Mae Sot’s factories.
  1- Rose*, 28, originally from Taunggyi in southern Shan state of Myanmar, was brought to Mae Sot by her father when she was 12 years old. At the age of 13, a broker took her to Bangkok to work in a noodle shop where she earned 1,000 baht (US $34) per month. Three years later, after getting married and becoming pregnant with her first child, Rose returned to Mae Sot to escape the anxiety of being arrested, which migrants face daily in Bangkok. Rose’s experience is not unique.
  2- Poe Poe*, 18, from Phyu township in eastern Myanmar, has been working in a garment factory since the age of 13. Long working hours without breaks or sick leave, the struggle to save money, and the absence of proper safety standards and labor rights characterize the experience of Rose, Poe Poe, and thousands of other migrant workers in Thailand.

Work Conditions
  Rose cleans the floors and tables of a garment factory for 150 baht per day (US $5), working for more than ten hours each day. For every one hour that the workers are late for their shift, they lose three hours of wages. Similarly, the consequence of missing one day of work is three days of work without pay.
  Yet Rose is grateful for her job. “I like to work here because I receive good pay,” she told JRS Mae Sot staff. But she admits that economic difficulties are a constant source of stress. “I still need money to pay for my children’s education,” she said. “I once paid an agent 4,500 baht to take me back to Bangkok by walking through the jungle so I could find a higher income job. We were cheated and left in the middle of nowhere,” she says, disappointment brimming in her eyes.
  But Rose is one of the lucky ones who have never felt endangered in the factory. Her workplace maintains a sound reputation for good management. “I never felt unsafe, but cleaning floors and tables is not a comfortable job,” Rose affirmed.
  Poe Poe, on the other hand, works in a different garment factory and feels unprotected in the dormitory, as there are no separate lavatories or showers for women. Although she has not been physically attacked, Poe Poe feels unsafe when taking a shower as she is often watched by men.
  In addition, the equipment in the factory is not always safe. The older sewing machines used to make the garments are dangerous, according to Poe Poe. “The owner hasn’t listened to complaints. We are really afraid to use those machines… Newly employed workers handle the old machines because they have no choice,” she said.

Labor Rights
  In 2012, JRS Mae Sot sponsored two group discussions led by the Overseas Irrawaddy Association for migrant workers on labor rights.
  ”Our rights are not fully respected because we are not given enough breaks,” said Rose. Poe Poe sews for more than ten hours per day without stopping. “We don’t have enough rest. It’s not fair at all,” she said. Although she wants to find another job, she feels trapped because her parents are there with her in the factory. “I really want…better conditions and higher pay, but if I quit, my parents will have no place to stay,” Poe Poe said.
  Both Poe Poe and Rose maintain dreams about returning to their hometowns in Myanmar to farm. “I like living in Thailand because it’s safe and there are many ways to earn money. However, if my parents, who are currently staying in Myawaddy, want to go back to Taunggyi, I will go with them. We still have available land to do farming,” said Rose. “If I can save money, I will take my family back home to do crop farming. There we’ll have a happy life,” Poe Poe sighed.
 [Edited by Ando Isamu, SJ, from Tokyo Jesuit Social Center,]
Source: JRS Asia Pacific Web “THAILAND: Voices from the factory” Maesot, 31 December 1012
(*1,2 :Names have been changed to protect identity)

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