Thai attitude to foreign labor needs urgent fix

BANGKOK: If Thailand is to move forward as a nation, we have a moral obligation to be fair.

In what is billed as the largest human-trafficking case ever brought by the US federal government, six contractors have been accused of a scheme to hold 400 Thai workers in virtual slavery on farms in Hawaii and Washington State.

Global Horizons Manpower has been accused of abusing the federal guest-worker program by luring the Thai workers with false promises of steady work at decent pay.

The workers also reportedly took on a huge debt – about 300,000 to 670,000 baht each – to pay the ‘recruiting fee’.

According to the indictment, the workers, all Thai farmhands, were set up in shoddy housing and told that if they complained or fled they would be arrested and/or deported. under those conditions, which some described as slavery, and with that kind of debt, being fired is not an option. They had to accept just about any abuse dished out to them.

While the indictment in the US is cause for applause, back here in Thailand we need to do some serious soul searching about how we allow such unfair and unjust recruitment processes to go unchecked in our country.

It has been estimated that there are over two million unskilled laborers from Cambodia and Burma currently working in Thailand. Like the American consumers, we Thais want inexpensive and fresh produce, and someone to can our fish and peel our shrimp.

But we consume these goods with little consideration for the plight of the workers who make sure our dinner gets to the table on time.

Too often we see ourselves as doing them a favor, conveniently pointing to the state of the economies and working conditions in their home countries. Such a selfish attitude has to end if we are to move forward as a responsible nation with a moral obligation to be fair to our foreign workers.

It is not uncommon to hear news reports about ridiculous restrictions placed on communities such as the Burmese. Some provincial officials won’t even let them celebrate certain cultural activities for fear that they would become too comfortable in Thailand and never go back home.

Let’s not forget that it was their inexpensive, back-breaking labor that helped Thailand climb the global economic ladder and become a regional hub in various industries.

Like many places, there is a tendency in Thailand to view unskilled labor as something undignified. But how dignified are we when we knowingly permit this unfair system to continue while we remain indifferent to the plight of our fellow human beings?

The world’s idea of the free movement of labor forces should be given its due consideration in Thailand.

People should have the right to work anywhere they want as long as they are hired. If people, including Thais, could enter any particular country with dignity and without undue hassle, they would not need help from traffickers.

Migration has taken place since the first men and women emerged in our world. They come and they go. Nobody has been able to stop them. Perhaps it’s time for Thailand to come to terms with this – terms which include respect and fairness to those who wish to work for us.

— The Nation

Phuket News

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