Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Broken Dreams

Nang Kham was a 14-year-old girl when she left her native town of Lashio in northern Shan state, eastern Burma.

Dreaming of a better life and a brighter future, she came to Thailand in 1996 and worked for nearly 10 years as a maid for a Thai family at a daily rate of 14 baht [US $0.40].
The MAP postcard supporting “International Day of Solidarity with Domestic Workers” on August 28, 2009.

Nang Kham was promised 1,500 baht [$43] per month by the couple who employed her, but they told her they would not give her the money in hand each month, saying they would save it for her.

Nang Kham agreed to the arrangement, and after nearly a decade of work, the sum she was owed as wages amounted to 48,000 baht [$1,403].

“Her employers refused to let her leave the house, even for a visit to her hometown after she had been working for several years,” said Rujisanwee Pim, a coordinator for the domestic worker campaign run by the Migrant Assistance Program (MAP), a Chiang Mai-based non-governmental organization.

Unable to bear the increasing physical and mental harassment, Nang Kham appealed to friends and relatives for help, but no one dared intervene.

When her boss found out she had made contact outside, they changed phone numbers and destroyed all her phone contacts, Nam Kham told Pim.

Nang Kham finally decided to escape when her employers offered her 10,000 baht ($292) for her decade’s wages.

Through friends, Nang Kham was able to contact MAP, who helped her negotiate with her former employers and Thailand’s Department of Labor Protection and Welfare.

Nam Kham’s employers were made to pay the 48,000 baht they owed, but they were able to deduct household expenses and the cost of her work permit, said Pim.

“She [Nang Kham] was so sad at the way they deceived her,” Pim told The Irrawaddy.

“After a decade of abuse all she wanted to do was get home as quickly as possible. She was lucky she wasn’t raped as well,” she said.

According to Thailand’s Board of Investment, the minimum daily wage ranges from 148 baht to 203 baht [$4.72 to $5.79], depending on province. In Chiang Mai it is currently set at 168 baht [US $4.79], but domestic workers will seldom get this rate.

Ma Moe, a former civil servant working for the Burmese government who has been a domestic worker in Thailand for 4 years, said: “Living standards are better here than in Burma. We come here because we have little choice.

“When I started my first job, my boss agreed to pay me 800 baht [$23.35] per month, but in reality I only got 500 baht [$14.60]. My neighbors told me my employer had relatives who were in the police, and they said other people working there before hadn’t been paid at all.

“I’m lucky I got paid,” she said.

Ma Moe described how one of her sisters, who currently works at the home of a lieutenant-colonel in the Thai police, has to work at any hour demanded, is rarely able to get out of the house, and is restricted in what she can eat.

Ma Moe currently works at the home of a foreigner, who, she says, treats her well, but she said her former boss, another foreigner, was rude.

“He got angry with me when he couldn’t find something and would accuse me of taking whatever it was he had lost. It was humiliating,” she said.

Mai Mai, who works as a rights campaigner with MAP, said: “Many domestic workers in Thailand are illegal, which puts them under psychological pressure. Abuse from their employers makes things worse.”

Jackie Pollock, the director of MAP, said: “Most governments don’t consider domestic workers as labor, and they neglect their rights. Next year, the International Labor Organization will discuss the rights of domestic workers for the first time.”

MAP is marking a regional “International Day of Solidarity with Domestic Workers” on August 28 by supporting a campaign to send postcards to the Thai Ministry of Labor demanding recognition and protection of domestic workers’ labor rights and the right to a guaranteed one day of paid leave per week.

MAP is distributing 10,000 postcards and has already circulated 5,000 [More details on the campaign can be found under on the MAP website].

Ma Par Lay, a maid who has got to know Mai Mai, brightens up at mention of the campaign.

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©2009 daily news | by TNB