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Distrust of authorities travels abroad: study

Migrant workers wait at Poipet’s international border checkpoint in 2014 before crossing into Thailand
Migrant workers wait at Poipet’s international border checkpoint in 2014 before crossing into Thailand Hong Menea

Distrust of authorities travels abroad: study

Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand facing exploitative conditions showed very low awareness of their labour rights and options for legal recourse there, with many chalking this up to a lack of confidence in authorities first ingrained in the Kingdom, a new report states.

The report, released by the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women on Friday, surveyed workers still in Thailand as well as returnees, finding they had a basic misunderstanding of immigration and labour laws and rarely sought government intervention or legal avenues when exploited.

While the scarcity of successful cases in which workers got compensation from errant employers was one of the factors, many also said they assumed previous experiences with corrupt officials and an ineffective court system in Cambodia would be repeated across the border.

The report includes all-too-familiar testimonials from workers highlighting the abuse they endured.

“I didn’t get paid at all and was threatened and physically assaulted. Someone asked when we would get paid and was slapped in the face with a gun,” said a respondent named Nam, who worked separating garbage.

Despite these experiences, most workers did not approach the police or provincial labour offices in Thailand. Instead, many blamed themselves for these hardships, citing the Buddhist precept of karma.

“I think I have done away with my old karma. I may have repaid all my karma debt now that I have been able to find good employer,” said Laem, after being shunted from employer to employer “like a football” without pay.

Daniel Murphy, a consultant at Human Rights Watch and International Labor Rights Forum, said he had witnessed workers blaming themselves or their karma for encountering abuse in Thailand.

“I think this is tragic and, in a sense, indicative of just how systematic and normalised these types of abuses have become over the last few decades in Thailand,” said Murphy, who focuses on migrants in the fishing sector.

Moeun Tola, of labour rights group Central, said the Cambodian government could not wash its hands of what he estimated were more than 1 million migrants working in Thailand, saying it needed to train them beforehand, as well as make assistance more accessible across the border.

Calls to Ministry of Labour spokesman Heng Sour and the consular services arm of Cambodia’s embassy in Bangkok were not answered yesterday.

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