As workers around the world celebrated International Labor Day at the beginning of May, more than 500 migrant workers on the Thai-Burmese border took collective action to demand that their employer improve wages and working conditions in a garment factory where they were earning less than 25 cents per hour for an 11-hour shift, according to reports. As a result of their two-day strike, the workers succeeded in doubling their wages and winning important gains in workplace conditions.
More than 2 million migrants, mainly from Burma, are working in Thailand, according to the International Labor Organization. These workers, among the most vulnerable in Thai society, have no legal right to form a union. Often lacking legal work permits, they are exploited, and their basic human and worker rights under domestic Thai laws and international labor standards are constantly violated. Non-governmental organizations such as the Human Rights and Development Foundation’s (HRDF) Labor Law Clinic—a Solidarity Center partner located in Mae Sot on the Burmese border—provide a safe haven for migrant workers struggling for justice and help them organize in the face of such harsh conditions. HRDF and its community-based organization, the Joint Action Committee for Burmese Affairs (JACBA), have long played a role in helping empower migrant workers to win justice against employers who seek to abuse workers’ rights in favor of the corporate bottom line.
The garment workers had been protesting their conditions for nearly a month: their wages were less than half the legal daily minimum wage, they were forced to work under filthy conditions, and they had no clean water or doors in the employee restrooms. On May 1, International Labor Day, they decided to take action the following morning. The LLC and JACBA helped the workers file a petition to the authorities and provided technical support after they went on strike. Following extensive negotiations with worker representatives, factory managers—seeing their profits dwindle with every day the strike endured—agreed to dramatically raise wages for both daily and piece work, shorten work shifts, and improve workplace conditions.