Opinion: Migrant workers are not just a dispensable economic cog but living, breathing humans

In both private and public spheres, the blame has often been placed on the migrant workers trying to survive, without the considering the system that ignores the humanity of these vulnerable communities.

According to the United Nations International Organization of Migration (IOM), there are approximately 4-5 million migrant workers in Thailand. These workers mostly take up lower-income jobs in various industries like fisheries, construction, and domestic work and are integral to the Thai economy as they keep these industries afloat. In turn, their remittances back home substantially contribute to their family’s income.

Although Thailand relies on the labor of these migrant workers to keep our country running, it constantly ignores their existence while also denying them rights to labor protection, safety, and health.

Subsequently, Thailand’s COVID response did not to take into account the migrant workers at all.

As the government eased up border restrictions, it mandated a 14-day quarantine for all foreigners and required that they pay for the quarantine out of pocket. While requiring a quarantine is crucial to deter the community spread of COVID, by requiring that foreigners pay for their own quarantine accommodations, the government indirectly prioritized wealthier foreigners over the migrant workers.

This basically left the migrant workers who were in their home countries without a source of income for themselves and their families. As a result, the migrant workers were compelled, out of desperation, to take drastic measures of risking their lives to cross the border and forego the quarantine that they could not afford.

After reaching Thailand, the accommodations that the employers provided for these workers are often in small, cramped rooms. As a result, these migrant workers were forced into closed quarters with each other, without the opportunity to quarantine or socially distance from each other. Due to the low wages that their employers provide, the workers did not have the luxury of looking for other accommodations. This forced the workers to put themselves on the line to keep our industries running.

While Thailand’s universal healthcare scheme is hailed as one of our reasons for success in testing and tracing COVID, this scheme does not include foreigners, including migrant workers. With lower-income jobs, these migrant workers could not afford to get tested for COVID. This, combined with the close quarters, allowed for the rapid spread of this disease.

Even though the Thai government has now temporarily made COVID testing free and required for migrant workers, it is also further restricting this community’s human rights by locking them in confined spaces and ‘letting the disease run its course.’

It seems as though Thailand views the migrant workers’ labor as essential but deems their lives as dispensable.

As the pandemic plays out, the government needs to work to protect the health and wellbeing of every single person living in Thailand, regardless of their wealth or citizenship.

So, for now, let’s stop blaming the honest, hardworking people trying to survive in a system that works against them, and instead, let’s hold the people who created this unjust, oppressive system accountable.


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