COVID-19 Op-ed

Uncertainty of Migrant Workers Behind Emergency Lockdown in Thailand

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Sophea TryStudent, Asia
Pacific MA Human Rights and Democratisation
Global Campus
of Human Rights Asia Pacific
Institute of Human Rights
and Peace Studies, Mahidol University

In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, Thai government has
imposed many restrictions to curb the spread of the virus as the country
reported more than hundreds new infected cases daily. Different sectors
across the country had to suspend their business and productivity due to the
lack of supplies and to abide by government orders. Thousands of migrant
workers who are currently working in those sectors were asked to put on
leave. Later, the Thai government ordered the closure of all borders with
neighboring countries in an attempt to prevent the spread. This restriction
brought the massive fleet of migrant workers to their respective home countries.
About 60, 000 migrant workers were able to cross the borders to Cambodia, Lao
and Myanmar before the borders shutdown (Thepgumpanat, 2020). The situation
is still getting worse from day to day in which the government decided to
declare a state of emergency for the whole country for one month from 26
March to 30 April 2020 (Boonlert and Sattaburuth, 2020). Thousands of migrant
workers were not able to return home and are currently facing economic
backwardness, unavoidable health insecurity, and uncertain future.While this
current global health crisis has disrupted everyone, the Thai government also
provided urgent measures to remedy affected people. The Ministry of Labour
had announced the extension of the over stay and work permit for migrant
workers until 30 June 2020. The cabinet’s resolution had mentioned the cover
of Covid-19 treatment for insured persons entitled under the Social Security
system. Interestingly, remedial measures also implemented to help workers–who
are affected by officials’ order to close down their business–to receive
compensation at half of the wage for up to 60 days, while those who are laid
off will receive at half of the wage for no more than 180 days (Ministry of
Labour, 2020).The announcement allows migrant workers to remain in the
country and continue working even if their work permit is expired. This
suggests that more attention has been paid to the exemption of the penalty
for overstay rather than addressing the well-being of migrant workers who
cannot afford their daily life in the country when they do not get any jobs.
Unlike other workers in formal sectors, migrant workers cannot work from home
and receive the wage. Once the business or factories close, they lose their
income. For them, the main concern is not about getting infected with the
Covid-19, they are afraid of the unaffordable living and dying from hunger in
the foreign land.Those migrant workers who remain in Thailand not only lose
their daily income but also at great risk of exposure to the virus. These
groups are inevitably less able to protect themselves because they live in
congested shared quarters, lack of adequate water, and sanitation. Although
the government has recognized that migrant workers–both documented and
undocumented–have the rights to Covid-19 information and treatment as well as
other entitlements and benefits the same to Thai workers, there are still
existing gaps in this provision and implementation. Migrant workers are still
unable to access healthcare and other related information due to their
accessibility, availability, and affordability. Only documented migrant
workers who are under the protection of the existing laws can claim for the
benefits, while undocumented migrant workers are unlikely to seek for the treatment
due to the fear of their illegal status. Not all documented migrant workers
have proper documentation or health insurance provided under the Social
Security Act. The failure of the document led to denial of healthcare service
and basic needs as well as creating fear, anxiety and discriminatory among
and against the migrant workers.More than this, the remedial measures
provided by the government leave unclear provision whether migrant workers
who have been laid off or asked to take leave without pay are entitled to the
benefit and even if they are entitled to receive the compensation, what is
the guideline or procedure to apply for those benefits. The majority of
migrant workers are employed in the informal sector, in which regular pay is
not well guaranteed.  Without clear provision and enforceable
mechanisms, thousands of migrant workers fall outside the scope of protection
during this inevitable crisis.The government must ensure that human rights
remain central attempts at all costs and the government should be aware of
the special needs of the marginalized groups. State under international law
is obligated to ensure that everyone in its territory can attain standard
living and the highest attainable standard of health. Therefore, the government
needs to take urgent steps to ensure that migrant workers, especially
undocumented workers can get access to food, other basic needs, and
healthcare which include the preventive care, and medical care without any
discrimination or any fear of arrest or deportation.References:Boonlert,
Thana and Sattaburuth, Aekarach, 2020. Lockdown Upends People’s Lives.
Bangkok Post,  28
March. Available at: <https://www.bangkokpost.com/thailand/general/1887940/lockdown-upends-peoples-lives>
.Ministry of Labour, 2020. Good News for Unemployed Workers and Businesses as
Labour Minister Announces Cabinet’s Resolution on Remedies for
Covid-19. Division of Public Relations,  25 March. Available at:
<https://www.mol.go.th/en/news/good-news-for-unemployed-workers-and-businesses-as-labour-minister-announces-cabinets-resolution-on-remedies-for-covid-19/>.Thepgumpanat,
Panarat, 2020. Thai Lockdown Sparks Exodus of 60,000 Migrant Workers:
Ministry Official. Reuters,  25 March. Available at:
<https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-thailand-exodus/thai-lockdown-sparks-exodus-of-60000-migrant-workers-ministry-official-idUSKBN21C0ZI>

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