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Mon workers gather at a ceremony at Phuket's Big Buddha earlier this year

Phuket's New Worker ID System a Fearful Failure

Monday, November 2, 2009
Phuketwan News Analysis: Photo Album Above

A SPEEDY reappraisal is required of the failing system that covers about 100,000 so-called ''alien'' workers on Phuket - because most of them are not what they seem.

Thousands of people presumed to be Burmese, operating illegally on the island, mostly in unskilled construction jobs, have now actually been found to be ethnic Mon.

This means the attempt to register the majority and give them legal status could never have worked because Mon are not recognised as citizens of Burma.

The new cast on the illegals was revealed at a meeting last week of a special committee involving MPs, Labor Ministry officials and other experts from Bangkok.

They told Governor Wichai Praisa-ngob at Provincial Hall that Phuket's labor issues were more dificult to resolve than in most situations, where people carried passports or other identification.

The head of the Construction Association of Phuket, Natcharin Yosangrat, said: ''Up to 90 percent of my workers are Mon. There are not as many Burmese workers on the island as we thought.''

Of his 157 workers, 147 are Mon. Those proportions are reflected at construction businesses all over Phuket, he said.

When a new and seemingly more acceptable registration plan was proposed earlier this year, Khun Natcharin registered all his workers.

As part of that process, the paperwork had to be sent to Burma, he said, and individuals had to return to Burma to be given a workers' ''passport.''

''Even my 10 Burmese staff are not happy to return to Burma,'' Khun Natcharin said. The workers fear they could be arrested and jailed, despite assurances from Burmese officials that the system would function fairly. It was also too costly.

The Mon, on the other hand, have no status in Burma and could not register under any conditions, even if they had the money to pay, Khun Natcharin said.

The Burmese and Mon both preferred to pay corrupt officials in Thailand rather than run the danger of arrest and imprisonment under the ''improved'' legal registration system.

''Even those among my workers who have Ids are happy to pay to avoid problems,'' Khun Natcharin said.

One of the Bangkok officials said it was clear that police needed to be invited to the next committee meeting on Phuket.

Over the past few months on Phuket, thousands of workers, illegal and legal, have been queuing at administration offices in the first part of the registration process.

The total amounted to 62,622 who were Burmese/Mon, the meeting heard.

But Ubon Choipat, of the Phuket Employment Office, said that only 722 had actually taken their new documents to Burma for processing, and none had had a response from Burmese officials.

The 722 were still waiting in Burma for the workers' ''passports'' that would make it plain that the system had the support of the Burma government, she said.

A Bangkok committee member said that throughout the whole of Thailand, 40,000 workers' applications had been made in Burma and only 10 percent had been approved.

He said he and other committee members accompanied the first 200 applicants to Burma, crossing at Tha Ki Leg.

''The people arrived at 6am and by midnight, the documents had still not been properly checked,'' he said. ''With about 100,000 Burmese/Mon on Phuket and thousands more in other provinces, including Ranong, Phang Nga and around Bangkok, the new process is clearly never going to work.

''It would take 10 years at least, or perhaps a lifetime, to process everyone at this rate.''

The committee had come to Phuket to find out why so few applications had actually reached the second stage of the approval process, that is, the applicants returning to Burma to register.

Now they know: it's because they are Mon, an ethnic group that has no status inside Burma.

The farcical outcome of the new, improved official plan to register and tax all workers lends weight to the plan by some officials who have proposed a do-it-yourself island only system.

They believe Phuket officials should independently register workers, illegal and legal, so that they all pay taxes at least, to cover the cost of the stress they place on the health system.

Thai residents on Phuket now find themselves in long queues at public hospitals for treatment behind Burmese. Human rights bodies have criticised the suggestion of a two-tiered system where those who pay tax get speedier treatment.

Burmese/Mon labor has been used to reconstruct Phuket and Andaman coast buildings since the 2004 tsunami but Thailand's treatment of immigrant workers is blemished by curfews and repeated arrests of workers, who are swiftly trucked back to the Burma border.

The 2008-2009 ''pushbacks'' to sea of Rohingya boat people seeking work or asylum and the death of 54 Burmese in a Phuket-bound container truck in 2007 are also black marks on Thailand's mixed record of dealing with immigration issues.
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Comments

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As a foreigner staying here every year a couple of months I say: the local thais should appreciate those people and wai them on their trip on the overloaded trucks to the construction sites. Because they do the dirty hard work the locals don't do!!! They do all this dirty hard work for a very low wage and without almost no rights, seven days a week! They receive very poor treatment of the local big players in the construction business! But its just another sad story about Phuket people and their authorities...

Posted by Ricky on November 2, 2009 15:11


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