Access Unknown: Access to Justice from the Perspectives of Cambodian Migrant Workers in Thailand

Access Unknown: Access to Justice from the Perspectives of Cambodian Migrant Workers in Thailand

Access Unknown: Access to Justice from the Perspectives of Cambodian Migrant Workers in Thailand
24. Feb. 2017 by GAATW
pdf
Number of Pages: 49

Over the past decade numerous steps have been taken in the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) to build the capacity of law enforcement, governments and service providers to address human trafficking and labour exploitation.

In 2014 the International Labour Organisation (ILO) initiated the Forced Labour Action in the Asian Region Project (FLARE) with the aim of strengthening national institutions and capacities to prevent and address forced labour in East and Southeast Asia. Similarly, many donors have provided resources for training law enforcement officers on issues of human trafficking. The Australia-Asia Program to Combat Trafficking in Persons (AAPTIP) has dedicated AUD 50 million from 2013 through 2018 to support regional cooperation to improve the criminal justice response to human trafficking, forced labour, and exploitative recruitment in ASEAN. The Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Development began the ASEAN Triangle Project (ATP) in 2012 with the aim of strengthening regional policies on the governance of labour migration, and enhancing the capacity of governments, workers’, and employers’ organisations to help reduce labour exploitation and inequalities of women and men migrants from ASEAN member states.

Regional governments have also amplified their efforts to support the rights of migrant workers. The ASEAN Labour Ministers Meeting (ALMM) has included as one of their focuses the implementation of the ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers (ACMW) to protect migrant workers against exploitation and mistreatment. The ASEAN Forum on Migration and Labour (AFML) also recently concluded its 9th annual meeting with the theme ‘Better Quality of Life for ASEAN Migrant Workers through Strengthened Social Protection’, and the ASEAN Convention Against Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (ACTIP) aims at preventing trafficking, protecting victims, and prosecuting crimes of trafficking in persons by using regional and international cooperation and coordination. However, despite these efforts, human trafficking and exploitation remain pervasive in the region.

Thailand has the fourth highest GDP per capita in ASEAN after Singapore, Brunei and Malaysia. A quickly aging Thai society along with Thais seeking higher-skilled jobs due to increased educational attainment has translated to a declining proportion of local workers available to meet Thailand’s workforce vacancies. At the same time, the booming development of especially the construction and food processing industries has created a demand for low-skilled, low-paid labourers. Gaps of development and economic growth between Thailand and neighbouring countries have attracted formal and informal migrants from Cambodia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR), and Myanmar to meet this demand. Migrants from these countries are typically employed in the so-called ‘3D jobs’ – dirty, dangerous and demeaning – often finding themselves in situations of human trafficking and labour exploitation. 

Since 2007 the Thai government has encountered pressure from local and international communities for its failure to prevent and address human trafficking and forced labour. Consequently, the European Union (EU) has issued a warning against Thailand to seriously address the slavery-like conditions in its seafood industry, worth roughly USD 3 billion per year. Since 2015 Thailand has been listed under a ‘yellow card’ warning for illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing by the European Commission and threats that a downgrade to a ‘red card’ listing could result in a banning of all imports of fisheries products from Thailand for the EU market.

Although the Thai government has developed policies to try to address its trafficking and migration issues by regularising irregular migrant workers’ status since 2003 , and has increased the channels and options for migrant workers to access legal registration, in April 2016 the number of migrant workers legally registered was only 1,769,509 or roughly 50% of the total estimated number of three million migrant workers in Thailand.

Despite all the resources and efforts dedicated to improving the conditions of migrant workers and addressing trafficking in Thailand, access to justice remains an underserved right for many trafficked persons.

Cambodians migrant workers are the second largest group in Thailand, after the Burmese, but there is little information on their situation and working conditions. Most available studies cover all three neighbouring nationalities (Burmese, Lao, and Cambodian) and the Greater Mekong Sub-region (Burmese, Lao, Cambodian and Chinese - Yunnan and Guangxi). Compared to Lao and Burmese migrants, Cambodians are in a relatively underprivileged position: Lao migrants are closer physically, culturally and linguistically to Thais and it has been easier for them to integrate into the Thai workforce and access support. Burmese people have migrated to Thailand for decades and there are a number of organisations available that offer support to Burmese migrant workers. Thus Cambodians are on one hand more vulnerable to exploitation and on the other have fewer support structures in cases of labour rights violations.

It was this lack of support for Cambodian migrant workers that motivated us to undertake this research focusing on their experiences with labour rights violations and access to justice and remedies. 

We were disappointed to discover through discussions with partners and service providers that some of the fundamental challenges that Cambodian migrant workers are facing today are very similar to those documented by GAATW nearly a decade ago in our report Collateral Damage. In the words of one of our partners, ‘We can’t really go very far in the legal arena. We often try to secure out of court settlements. Sometimes what the workers need and what is well within their human rights is not supported by the legal systems of countries of origin and destination.’

We believed that more perspectives and experiences of Cambodian migrant workers and trafficked persons were needed to help understand the obstacles to accessing justice. By analysing these obstacles and working together with service providers we aim to address some of the barriers and contribute to the realisation of their rights. 

We did not find literature which emphasised the gathering and sharing of perspectives of Cambodian migrant workers, while also including the input and analysis of service providers. We believe that the opinions and thoughts of Cambodian migrants shared in this report, combined with the joint analysis of service providing partners from both destination and origin country, will provide practical insights into this continuing challenge, and hopefully allow us to better understand the specific difficulties Cambodians are facing.

The aim of this research was to examine why there is still such a significant disconnect between the currently available options in the legal system and Cambodian workers’ unwillingness or inability to practically access them, and explore the access to justice scenario from their experiences and insights at both origin and destination.

Our project employed participatory methodologies, which not only gathered detailed perspectives from migrant workers, but also included capacity building for service providers, and shared findings among key stakeholders to form a preliminary basis on which recommendations and future actions were made and planned for implementation. 

We hope that this study will make a contribution to the future plans of support groups already working to improve the rights and access to justice of Cambodian migrant workers. 

Table of contents:

List of Abbreviations....................................................................................... 1
Acknowledgements ........................................................................................ 2
Introduction ..................................................................................................... 3
Methodology..................................................................................................... 7
     Scope and Limitations................................................................................  8
     Interviews and Data Collection...................................................................  9
     Research Activities and Partners ............................................................... 11
Summary Findings........................................................................................... 12
Findings: Perspectives of Cambodian Migrant Workers................................. 15
     Pre-departure.............................................................................................. 16
     Working in Thailand..................................................................................... 18
     Conflict Resolution and Workers’ Rights ...................................................  22
     Justice and Access to Justice......................................................................  26
     Fairness in Work........................................................................................... 31
Recommendations............................................................................................. 34
     Recommendations and Requests from Cambodian workers: ...................  35
Conclusion........................................................................................................ 37
Annex I: Thailand - Laws and Policies Concerning Migrant Workers.............. 40
Annex II: Cambodia - Laws and Policies Concerning Migrant Workers........... 44

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