On June 27, the government announced that accommodation for workers both inside and outside of the construction sites, building transformation sites or demolition of building sites shall be temporarily closed, while movement of workers shall be prohibited temporarily for at least thirty days. The government reacted quickly in respond to the growing number of clusters of COVID-19 cases. However, the government should also realise that closing down camp sites alone may not be able to help containing the virus, unless there are measures to properly address the movement and health of migrant workers as follows.
First, the government need to rethink about compensation. On June 29, the government stated that it will provide help to workers, both Thai and migrant, under the social security system by which they will receive 50% of their wage but shall not exceed 7,500 Baht. According to the Foreign Workers Administration Office, as of May 2021, there are approximately 2.3 million migrant workers with permits to work in Thailand, of these 405,261 were migrant workers in construction sector. However, according to the latest statistics on social security in 2019, there were only 172,897 migrant workers in the construction sector who were insured under the social security scheme. This means that more than half of migrant workers in the construction sector will not receive the compensation.
Migrant workers in the construction sector are usually paid daily, and with the construction sites being closed, they have no income to buy food and other necessities. This may render them to leave the sites and find employment elsewhere, resulting in illegal status. Even those who are entitled to the 50% wage compensation might also be tempted to find another job that will pay them 100% of wage. This will later hinder the ability of government to find them, as migrant workers avoid prosecution. Years of effort to bring migrant workers into the system might be thwarted.
This brings us to the second suggestion, rethinking about camp closure in the one-size-fits-all manner. Construction camps with worker’s accommodations on-site should be able to continue their operation, provided that these sites are equipped with enough healthy food to maintain workers’ health, areas for medical treatment and quarantine, as well as sleeping and living areas that address social distancing. Authority may visit these site and grant approval if they are up to the standard.
Construction camps with worker’s accommodation situating in another location, such as local communities, need additional monitoring and movement restriction measures. Examples are QR Code tracking, and transport to and from construction sites, making sure that workers will not meet member of local communities. Contractors shall keep the authority informed about daily operation. This practice known as Bubble & Sealed model has been used in Samut Sakorn during the previous cluster outbreak among factory workers. It will be useful to extract lessons from this model, and apply to construction camps.
Third, rethink about well-being of workers in the camp sites, ensuring that workers will not be forced to run away. Many migrant workers in the construction sector migrate with their families to Thailand or start their families as they settled. Being locked in their on-site or off-site accommodation which are known to be congested, unhygienic and unsafe, is not a condition anyone would wish to be in, let alone having their children experience such conditions. According to the figures by The Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration or CCSA, 48,000 migrant workers are in 585 construction camp sites in Bangkok alone and of these, according to UNICEF, around 13,000 are migrant children. Their needs for nutrition, development, and protection must be addressed.
Fourth, rethink about domestic violence. Being locked down in the accommodation means that victims of violence are now in a more vulnerable position. According to the report on Support to Children Living in Construction Site Camps by UNICEF, it was found that more than 40% of mothers reported experiencing some form of verbal/psychological abuse or physical violence, and almost 90% of children participants reported experiencing some form of physical violence from their parents or guardians. These groups of women and children in the construction camps must not be left behind to suffer in silence, or be compelled to run away elsewhere. The government and employers could work together to identify their needs and response to them. Working in tandem with civil society organizations and migrant networks can also build up trust among the survivors.
Fifth, rethink about communication with migrant workers. It is widely known that migrant workers do not have much trust on officials, afraid that they might be captured for repatriation, or exploited in many possible ways, or both. Any laws, policies, and measures concerning migrant workers must be accessible both in terms of languages and mode of communication. In this age of information technology, information can spread quickly, so does fake news. Partnering with networks of migrant workers as well as the employers to help distributing the information can be helpful.
Boonwara Sumano, PhD, is a senior research fellow at the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI). N Aneksomboonphon is an independent contributor. Policy analyses from TDRI appear in the Bangkok Post on alternate Wednesdays.
First Published : Bangkok Post on Wednesday, 7 July 2021
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