Burmese Migrants Earning, Learning in Thailand

Burmese Migrants Earning, Learning in Thailand

A 56-year-old ethnic Shan migrant worker, Sam Htun, is typical of many Burmese who live in Thailand, grateful for the opportunity to work for a decent income.


“I feel my life in Thailand is more secure than in Burma,” he says. “In Thailand, it is easier to make a living.”


Burmese migrant workers in Chiang Mai prepare a rudimentary dinner for a ceremony. (Photo: Saw Yan Naing/The Irrawaddy)

He lives in Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand, where thousands of Burmese migrant workers have gainful employment, enabling many workers to send money home to family and loved ones.


Sam Htun earns about 4,500 baht (about US $130) a month. In Burma, he earned 10,000 to 20,000 kyat (about $8 to16) per month. He never had enough money to get by, he said. 
He now sends about 17,000 kyat (about $13) every month to his family in Taunggyi in Shan State in eastern Burma. He said he left Burma because he felt oppressed by Burmese authorities and because of the poor economy. 

He is one of the hundreds of Shan migrant workers who stay at Kakanok 2, a Burmese migrant worker camp in San Kamphaeng in Chiang Mai Province. 

The Kakanok 2 camp houses about 200 Burmese migrant workers, mostly ethnic Shan, who have legal work permits. 

Most work in construction and have lived in Chaing Mai from three to eight years. A close knit community, they attend training workshops and hold ethnic celebrations on holidays and other occasions. 


A Burmese migrant workers’ shantytown in Chiang Mai.
(Photo: Saw Yan Naing/The Irrawaddy)

Much of the training is provided by a nongovernmental organization, the Human Rights and Development Foundation, which specializes on migrant labor rights.
The migrant workers have created their own worker rights group, the Migrant Workers Federation. On International Migrant Workers Day, December 18, they held a simple ceremony attended by about 200 migrants, guests and a few journalists.


When the ceremony started about 7 p.m, workers, children and elders gathered in a hall, looking happy and excited.   

During the evening, there were question and answer games that served to educate workers about labor rights. For a correct answer, prizes were awarded.

“The ceremony is good because it educates migrant workers about their rights,” said migrant worker Sam Htun. 

The chairman of the Migrant Workers Federation, Sai Kad, who organized the ceremony, said, “I’m glad when I see a lot of migrant workers come together and enjoy the evening. It makes me want to fight more for the rights of migrant workers.”  
He said too many migrant workers still experience poor working conditions, and they didn’t know how to complain and demand compensation from employers if they are injured or denied wages. 

“Before, they didn’t even know they were abused,” he said. “But they know now.”

A 26-year-old migrant worker, Sai Hla Woon, said, “I’m glad I came to this program. I learned something. We can rely on ourselves and help each other.” 

“If I am mistreated now, I will go to the labor protection and welfare office,” he said.



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