The International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) will honor the Burmese Migrant Workers Rights Network (MWRN) and the State Enterprises Workers’ Relations Federation (SERC) with the 2013 International Labor Rights Award for their groundbreaking work in defending migrant workers in Thailand. The ILRF’s International Labor Rights Award is given annually to recognize the significant contributions of labor rights advocates toward achieving just and humane treatment for workers worldwide.
Migrant workers from the neighboring countries of Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos make up an estimated 10 percent of Thailand’s labor force, particularly in labor intensive export industries like seafood processing, agriculture, garment manufacturing, construction and domestic care. Many of these workers are trafficked into the country by labor brokers and are often subjected to labor exploitation. Horrible working conditions, including under and non-payment of wages, violations of minimum wage laws, long overtime hours, dangerous and unsanitary work environments and the denial of freedom of association and collective bargaining rights are common. Worse still, instances of debt bondage, forced labor and child labor are known to be widespread in these industries.
In 2009 migrant workers from Myanmar employed in Thailand’s seafood processing sector formed MWRN to address issues relating to human trafficking, forced labor, child labor, and other labor rights violations. With assistance from Mr. Sawit Kaevwarn, ILRF award recipient and the Secretary General of SERC, Mr. Aung Kyaw, ILRF award recipient and the President of MWRN, has grown MWRN into the largest grassroots member-based migrant worker association in Thailand.
Over the last three years, MWRN has courageously exposed labor rights violations at seafood processing facilities producing for the largest U.S. retailers, welcomed noble peace prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi on her first overseas trip in 24 years to Mahachai, Samutsakorn Province in Thailand, and advocated for major reforms to Thailand’s immigration laws.
Although migrant workers cannot legally form a union in Thailand, the collaboration between SERC and MWRN has helped bridge the gap between the traditional union movement in Thailand and the struggles of migrant workers. SERC and MWRN have successfully established a “Humanitarian Transportation Project” to enable Myanmar migrant workers to visit their hometowns securely with the Cooperation of Transport Co, Ltd. Furthermore, SERC under the leadership of Mr. Kaevwarn has filed a petition with the International Labour Organization alleging that the denial of work accident compensation to migrant workers by the Government of Thailand is a clear breach of ILO Convention 19.
"MWRN is on its way to becoming a globally recognized representative of migrant workers on issues relating to trafficking, forced labor and other labor rights abuses in Thailand,” said Judy Gearhart, Executive Director of ILRF. “We are committed to standing with MWRN and supporting the organizations work in the future.”