Thailand is rethinking a controversial plan to deport pregnant migrant workers from countries such as Cambodia and instead support them following widespread outrage, a Thai labour ministry official said yesterday.
Last month, Thai Labor Minister Padermchai Sasomsap announced plans to send home migrant workers who were three or four months pregnant, sparking sharp criticism from civil society groups that this would cause health risks and was a form of discrimination.
Somkiat Chayasriwong, permanent secretary to the minister of labour, yesterday acknowledged there had been a strong backlash and said the ministry was reconsidering plans aimed at keeping migrant children out of the factories their parents worked in.
“Right now, we try to find another way. We don’t permit the child to go in the factory. We will ask the factory to prohibit children from entering in the factory and try to build the child centre for the factories in the [problem] areas,” he said.
Somkiat said no final decisions had been made, but that discussions on how to protect the children of Thailand’s vast migrant labour force were ongoing and would include consultation with civil society.
According to the International Labour Organization, the Thai government as of March this year was aware of some 1.7 million migrant workers in the country, predominantly from Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos.
Thai Department of Employment director-general Prawit Khiangphol was quoted in The Nation newspaper yesterday saying there was a proposal to allow pregnant migrant workers to stay and receive access to social security networks.
That would include access to public health services, schools for their children and full maternity leave, according to The Nation.
Human Rights Watch slammed the original plan to deport pregnant migrant workers, and deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said the latest announcements were a positive sign that the Ministry of Labour was at long last listening.
“The proposal to deport migrant workers is incredibly rights abusive and wrong-headed,” he said by email. “I think that the MOL is finally recognising how badly this idea has damaged Thailand’s reputation and caused renewed concerns about Thailand’s generally poor record of protecting migrant workers’ rights.”
Hem Mony, director of labour at the Cambodian Ministry of Labour, said he had not received any diplomatic notification from Thailand about the issue and thus could not comment.