Notes from the field: Mae Sot
Kathryn Baldwin recently returned from working for six weeks as a volunteer with the UnionAID Project in Mae Sot. One of her strongest impressions was the lack of freedom or rights for the migrant workers from Burma. She is full of admiration for the commitment of the project leaders Min Lwin and Htwe Nge and the proactive nature of their work. Below she tells the story of visiting a typical factory and talking to one of the workers.
Kyaw, an ethnic Karen, arrived in Thailand seven years ago after working as a motorbike taxi driver in Burma. For the last four years he has been working at a knitting and sewing factory on the Thai Burma border.
Like many migrant workers Kyaw and many of his colleagues do not hold work permits.
To prevent these illegal workers from being arrested or deported back to Burma their employer bribes the Thai police. This 300 baht ($13 NZ) per employee is deducted from the employees’ wages. The 200 workers get paid on the number of garments they produce.
They typically make 12 garments each day which earns them a daily 150 baht ($7 NZ). Workers are required to work 8 am till midnight with an hour off for lunch and another hour for dinner. They work 7 days a week but on Sundays they finish at 5pm.
Kyaw’s working conditions are typical of the many migrant factory workers in Mae Sot. Many of them live on the factory site in overcrowded and appalling conditions.
Part of the work the FTUB does is working with employees, like Kyaw, to provide them with skills and knowledge to enable them to advocate for their employment rights and in turn improve their working conditions.