Employment & Labour Law

Unscrupulous Employment Agencies Prey on Workers despite Agreements

Date: 28 May 2019; Type: Industry Updates; Source: Myanmar Times

Ko Tun Tun Naing and his family in Bago Region could not contain their excitement when he was told that he would finally be leaving for Thailand to work in an aluminium-frame installation company.

He was already thinking about buying land so that he could build a house for his family. His six-year-old child and wife now live at his parent’s house. He thought nothing could go wrong because he was getting the job under the memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed by the Myanmar and Thai governments, and a licensed employment agency was processing his application.

He was in for a rude awakening. A licensed agency and the MoU system are no guarantees that you can secure the job you apply for. Migrant rights groups said many workers have been victimised by dishonest agencies that send workers to Thailand even though no jobs are waiting for them.

Ko Tun Tun Naing was among 60 migrant workers who flew to Bangkok earlier this month to work as installers at the aluminium-frame factory.

The employment contracts they signed in November last year said they would earn 315 baht (K15,200) a day for eight hours of work, far more than Myanmar’s K4800 minimum wage for the same number of working hours.

Unfortunately, when they reached Bangkok their prospective employer refused to give them work. The company did allow them to stay at the factory while they were looking for other jobs but they were seldom given food.

Nearly a month after the nightmare started, 16 of the workers found employment at other factories with the help of the Myanmar labour attaché and the Myanmar Overseas Employment Agencies Federation (MOEAF) in Bangkok.

The other 44 workers, including Ko Tun Tun Naing, did not accept the offer as they had no experience in the jobs, which were at wood mills and iron factories.

“We had to look for employment by ourselves,” he said. In the meantime, the workers had to spend money to rent rooms while they waited for letters discharging them from their commitment to their original employer so that they could get another job in Thailand.  

The workers have asked other job brokers to help them find employment suitable to their experience. Ko Tun Tun Naing and 21 others said they are looking forward to working at a chicken factory on the outskirts of Bangkok.

He said they had to pay the brokers 6000 baht each to get jobs at the factory and they have to pay for their own accommodations.

“All of that would be OK if the job is all right. I don’t think about the money I lost to the agency that sent me here as long as I am able to get a job,” Ko Tun Tun Naing said, adding that he and the other workers paid K1 million apiece to the agency that promised them jobs at the frame installation factory.

“I know they were exploiting us, but we are desperate for jobs. It would be a minor expense for us if we got good jobs,” he said, while admitting that he had borrowed the money for the fee from a loan shark.

“I have to struggle for about six months to pay for the interest on my loan if I get this job at the chicken factory,” he said.

Under the MoU, employment agencies collect K150,000 and 3600 baht in fees from each worker to pay the Thai government for visas, work permits, and medical insurance.

Ko Hla Thein, not his real name, has worked at a factory in Thailand for over a year, and paid K850,000 to an employment agency. “We were told by the agency to say that we paid only K150,000 if asked by the Labour Department,” he said.

He said workers usually agree to lie about the fee to the Labour Department because they are so desperate to get a job in Thailand.

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