Tuesday, June 08, 2010

"We are cheap labour, we have no rights"

From IRIN, one man's story of having a lack of labor rights in Myanmar.

Umpiem is one of about a dozen refugee camps along the Thailand-Myanmar border for displaced persons who have fled poverty as well as ethnic, religious and political persecution. The camp is home to about 27,000 people, according to the Karen Refugee Committee. Under Thai law, displaced persons are prohibited from leaving the camps, but authorities often allow refugees to leave for day labour. Maung Win*, 36, an ethnic Arakan, told IRIN about his recent arrest outside camp.

"I leave the camp most days to find work nearby. I leave early in the morning, walk 5km to the area where we wait by the side of the road to be picked up for day labour at 4am, and I return to the camp at 5pm.

"I get 80 baht [US$2.50] a day. A Thai worker is paid more than twice this amount. We are cheap labour, and we have no rights. This is the only way I can earn a bit of money. Without work, it's hard to survive just on the rations we are given.

"More and more people from the camp started going out for work, so there was a smaller chance of getting chosen for the day. A couple of hundred people leave the camp each day now. There was no more work nearby, so I had to start going farther away.

"Once a week, I would to go to Umphang to work on a farm. The last time I tried to go to Umphang, I was arrested [at a roadside check point] and sent to jail for being outside the camp.

"In jail, the guards had me carry bricks for them, and my wife had to send money for the police to provide me with food. We sold some of our possessions.

"I fled Myanmar in 1990. After our local Arakan leader was executed in jail, we demonstrated and then it was dangerous for some of us to stay around.

"From 1990 to 1994, I lived in Mae La camp with my uncle. After that I worked in a factory in Mae Sot. During that time the police would harass me but I managed to avoid getting arrested. I met my wife in Mae Sot in 2005.

"Now it's impossible for me to work in a factory because of the new [nationality verification] programme that says we must register with the Burmese government in order to get permission to work here. Of course, that's not possible. So now I can only try to work near the camp, if there is any work available."

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