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Social insecurity for migrants in Thailand legally

Since November 2010, the Social Security Office of Thailand has promised social security benefits to migrants holding temporary passports. This promise became policy under the Cabinet Resolution of January 15th 2013. Migrants who persevered through all th
Jackie Pollock
07 Aug 13
The Nation

Not only is the Bt300 minimum wage not enforced for migrants, but now the number of benefits they can receive after contributing to the social security fund is diminishing before their eyes.

On May 28, Somkiat Chawatsriwong, permanent secretary to the Labour Ministry, announced that he believed a separate social security system with fewer benefits should be set up for migrant workers. Women in particular were to be targeted for restricted rights. While women would still be able to claim the costs of birthing, they would not receive benefits for maternity leave or child allowance. Somkiat said that migrants should know the importance of birth control so that they will not settle in Thailand; they should know that they are only coming to Thailand to work for a period. Migrants, he said, were not eligible for unemployment benefits because, according to the immigration law, they are not allowed in the country for longer than seven days if they are not working. He also proposed giving a lump sum instead of monthly pensions.

MAP Foundation, a migrant workers support group, is dismayed that a two-tiered social security system, which would effectively institutionalise the second-class status of migrant workers in Thailand is being proposed.

The amendment to the Social Security Act excludes migrants from three of the seven benefits, namely the right to birthing costs, child allowance and unemployment benefits. The proposed amendments are being justified on the basis that migrants are not welcome to settle in Thailand. They are based on discriminatory practices and will create tensions and hostility between migrant and host communities. They also clearly violate Thailand's obligations to CEDAW. Article 11 (2) specifies that in order to prevent discrimination on the grounds of marriage or maternity, states must "... introduce maternity leave with pay or with comparable social benefits without loss of former employment, seniority or social allowances." CEDAW Article 11(2)(c) requires state parties to promote the establishment and development of a network of child-care facilities. In addition, under CEDAW a state is legally obliged to take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women and advance gender equality. The denial of child care and maternity benefits clearly violates Thailand's obligations to CEDAW and the two-tier social security system will create, not eliminate, discrimination.

The Labour Unions and workers groups of Thailand had proposed an alternative draft of the Social Security reform bill. Their proposal extends the definition of worker to include domestic workers, home workers and all temporary workers, and calls on the government to match informal workers' contributions to the social security fund. The unions also emphasised the need to reform the Social Security Office's structure and governance. This has been a major cause for concern for all who contribute to the fund but do not have confidence that they will receive their benefits in the future if the office is not transparent in its management of the funds.

Despite their progressive and comprehensive nature, the proposed amendments by the unions were rejected by Parliament. We can only hope that Parliament will also reject any two-tiered, discriminatory social security system which does not afford migrants all their benefits and equal rights.

Jackie Pollock is executive director of MAP Foundation, Chiang Mai.