A U.N. report that highlights regular discrimination and lack of labour protection said women make up almost 40 percent of migrant construction workers in Thailand, more than almost anywhere else in the world.
The report, released by the International Labor Organization (ILO) on Tuesday, says the large numbers only serve to magnify their problems, including lower pay and the risk of being fired if they get pregnant.
The organisation said on Tuesday that in Thailand, over 200,000 overworked and undervalued women from Cambodia, Myanmar, and Laos work alongside men to smooth walls, lay bricks, and carry bags of cement on Bangkok construction sites.
It says that besides being both paid and trained less than their male counterparts, their shipping container homes provide little security from rowdy male workers. So, having a husband for protection is almost a prerequisite. But they also need to take birth control to avoid getting fired for being pregnant.
The ILO said some migrant women in this study reported company policies to dismiss pregnant women, while a number of women take it upon themselves to resign or “stop working” during pregnancy to avoid conflict with their employer.
No women interviewed had received maternity leave or pay, the report entitled ‘High rise, low pay: Experiences of migrant women in the Thai construction sector’, said.
“While some women, primarily in Chiang Mai, had Social Security or Comprehensive Migrant Health Insurance that covered the majority of their health-care costs, other women reported paying high costs for reproducive or other health care,” the report said.
“Employers in the sector were found to have regularly dismissed pregnant women.”
The report, which looks at gender-specific challenges faced by women construction workers, added many of the women interviewed reported returning to their countries of origin to give birth.
The ILO said in a statement that limited coverage and implementation of labour laws and social security provisions also leave women migrants in construction and domestic work unprotected.
Women construction workers also reported being paid less than men even when doing the same work. The ILO said only around one in three of the migrant women interviewed received the minimum wage, whereas all of the men interviewed did.
In the construction sector, many migrant women performed physically demanding work and expressed a fear of injury on site. Few employers provided safety equipment or had adequate tools for all workers, the report found.
The ILO urged the Thai Government and employers to end excessive documentation costs for migrant workers, ensure migrant workers are receiving at least the Thai minimum wage, provide adequate safety equipment, and improve the standard of employee housing.
“The report recommends ensuring that women migrant workers are not excluded from better paid work by challenging stereotyped assumptions about their abilities,” it said.
Additional reporting from the Associated Press