MIGRANT workers in Thailand should not be criminalised for reporting abuse and exploitation, a rights watchdog told the Junta government on Wednesday, urging the abolition of the kingdom’s criminal defamation law.
Human Rights Watch (HRW), responding to the criminal defamation case against 14 Burmese migrant workers who accused their employer of violating their labour rights, also called on the authorities to drop the charges.
“The Thai government should not allow an employer to criminalise these migrant workers for reporting what they describe as horrendous and unlawful labor conditions,” HRW’s Asia director Brad Adams said in a statement.
“The charges against these 14 workers should be dropped, and Thailand’s criminal defamation law should be abolished.”
HRW said proceedings in the case will begin in Don Muang Magistrates Court in Bangkok today.
In July 2016, the 14 workers submitted a complaint to the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRC) over a slew of allegations involving poor working conditions.
The group accused Thammakaset Farm – a chicken farm in Lopburi province – of subjecting them to grueling work conditions that included up to 20 hours of work per day, forced overtime, and being compelled to sleep in chicken rearing areas overnight.
Thailand, one of the world’s key food exporters, employs an estimated three million migrant workers, mostly from neighboring Burma.
HRW said over the years, human rights and labor rights of migrant workers from Burma, Cambodia, and Laos in Thailand were regularly abused with “impunity”.
“Migrant workers frequently receive little or no protection from Thai labor laws despite government assertions that all legally registered migrant workers will be protected under those laws,” HRW said.
The watchdog said it was common for migrants to face retaliation from the employers for filing complaints with the authorities. The workers were also barred from legally establishing or leading a labour union due to laws that only accord those rights to Thai nationals.
The group added the criminal defamation law provides employers with an “easy way” to retaliate against migrant and Thai workers who report alleged human rights abuses.
It added criminal defamation laws in Thailand and many other countries are “easily abused” as a way to retaliate against people who speak out against abuses.
“The government is helping to chill the atmosphere for investigations of company supply chains, and is undermining corporate accountability, if it does not protect these 14 migrant workers from retaliation,” Adams said.