Hundreds of Cambodian workers return home as Thailand closes construction sites

(Migrant workers and their families return to Cambodia after Thailand closes all its construction sites. / Khmer Times)

Hundreds of Cambodian workers return to their country after Thailand imposed a military-style lockdown of all its construction sites to contain the spread of COVID-19. 

Thailand’s lockdown of all construction sites, including those in the country’s four southern border provinces of Songkhla, Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat, was enforced by military personnel who were deployed to quarantine workers inside their camps. This 

caused widespread panic among workers and the exodus of migrant workers, many of whom are Cambodian, fleeing constructions camps to cross the country’s border.

According to reports, many of the Cambodian workers who decided to return to Cambodia were fired by their employers and have low confidence in the Thai government’s COVID-19 measures. This increases the risk of spreading COVID-19 to Cambodia, as many Cambodian migrant workers employed in Thailand have reportedly tested positive for the virus. 

The Bangkok-based Workers’ Union outlined several proposals to help contain the pandemic and protect migrant workers’ rights and welfare.  They are the following: 

  • Issue a temporary amnesty for all migrant workers currently in Thailand (against legal prosecution) for a period of six months, open registration processes, and immediately stop all arrests. Improve the dissemination of public information so that (a) migrant workers and other interested parties are able to follow procedures for official registration for which there should be no cost attached, and (b) to ensure that all are able to efficiently access systems of protection against the pandemic. 

  • Allow migrant workers, who are attached to employers, but are still not part of the social insurance system, to become members of the system and have their membership back-dated for three (3) months to ensure immediate access to hospital care. 

  • Allow migrant workers, who are not individually insured as legally stipulated, to be afforded rights to access Migrant Workers Health Insurance for an interim period of six (6) months, and these rights be immediately extended to cover the costs of COVID-19 testing and care.

  • Halt the closure of construction worker encampments and improve strategies for COVID-19 testing. 

  • Provide government compensation to workers at the level of their normal income in circumstances where it is necessary to close their encampments and accommodations, or cease businesses and employment due to COVID-19. 

  • Ensure the workers’ active participation at all levels of the Centre for the Administration of the Situation due to the Outbreak of the Communicable Disease Coronavirus (COVID-19). In particular, labour and civil society representatives must be included in the working committee, together with the representatives from the public service, industry, trade and banking sectors.

“We believe that if everyone in Thailand receives equal protection and care, we will be able to steer clear of the danger posed by COVID-19,” Workers’ Union Coordinator Tanaporn Wijan said.

(Members of the Bangkok-based Workers' Union held a rally to press their demands on how to address the COVID-19 crisis and protect migrant workers' rights.)