Phuket Opinion: Who deserves a consul?
PHUKET: I read recently that the South Africans may open a consulate on Phuket (story here), and my first thought was, South Africans? They need a consulate?
Apparently about 80,000 come here per year. It’s not that I think they don’t deserve a consulate, let them have one, by all means. But there’s another group of foreigners who live here year round in much higher numbers who have an even greater need for representation – the Burmese.
A steady stream of ambassadors and consuls come to Phuket to take a stand for their people – 17 European ambassadors were here last June asking Governor Maitri Inthusut to improve tourist safety and get rid of jet-ski scams (story here). The Chinese ambassador was here two weeks before that with a six-point list of requests that included tourist safety, as well as a stop to police extortion of Chinese tourists (story here).
Who do Phuket’s Burmese residents have to fight for them? To argue for their safety at work? For appropriate clothing on construction sites and weather-proof transportation to their jobs?
They need someone in an official position to push for equal wages, reasonable working hours, hygienic living conditions and fair treatment at immigration.
I’m not saying that Phuket’s Burmese workers are a downtrodden lot who need to be rescued. Most of the Burmese men and women I’ve known here are hard workers with the pluck and ambition you’d expect of immigrants. People like the three young hotel engineers I taught English to on Racha Island, where we worked together.
There was shy and exquisitely polite Myo, who dropped out of school at age 10 to help his father farm their rice plot. After many years, he left the hotel and got a job in a small restaurant. He took only two days off a month, gained experience as a waiter, then told himself, “Now you have to go up,” and found work at one of Patong’s biggest restaurants.
And there was independent and strong-principled Solin, who moved to rubber cutting and then back to hotel engineering, got promoted to supervisor and now wants to set up a maintenance business with Thai friends.
And there was Soe, who loves his new job as a waiter and wishes he could study design and business. On his day off, Soe goes to coffee shops, orders a cappuccino, puts in his ear buds and listens to music. “The world is not big,” he told me. “People on the island think it is, but it’s not.”
Myo, Solin and Soe pay taxes. They never asked for a voice, but they deserve one. We all do.
— Leslie Porterfield
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