Thai workers often pay large sums to get a job abroad that at times falls well short of what the recruiters’ promised. An ILO initiative has helped former migrants win financial redress.

Tak Province, Thailand (ILO News) – Auto mechanic Pirom Boonyorat, 35, frowns as he recalls how his last stint as a migrant ended up in financial disaster.

He had paid Thai recruiters 580,000 Baht (17,000 Euros at the time) to make employment and travel arrangements for a job in Spain. The recruitment agency told him he’d be paid 1,500 Euros a month and work for five years.

His salary turned out to be half that much, and after one year there was no more work.

Broke and with no prospects in Spain, Mr. Boonyorat returned to Thailand, furious with the recruiter.
“I felt the company only wanted our money. They took no responsibility for their promises. They should have tried their best to find new jobs for us,” he said.

Stories like this are not uncommon in Thailand, where recruiters, working on commission, often embellish the conditions of the jobs they arrange.

But Mr. Boonyorat and others have now obtained compensation from the recruitment agency, thanks to an ILO project backed by the European Commission, which helped them take their cases to a Thai Labour Court.

The project, “Going back – Moving on” aims at helping returning migrants in their economic and social reintegration. It also works with Thai lawyers to help migrants seek fair compensation if they feel they have been wronged.

A breakthrough in migrant workers’ rights

The financial redress marked a breakthrough in the way Thai courts view the rights of Thai migrant workers and the obligations of the recruitment companies that send them abroad.

“More migrants are returning home and those who feel they were cheated are going to court,” said Siriwan Vongkietpaisan, a Thai lawyer who represented Mr. Boonyorat.

The lawyer also acted on behalf of Oonjai Thiwong, who paid a recruiter 250,000 Baht (7,000 Euros at the time) for a job in Poland. In early 2012 the Thai Labour Court ruled in favour of Ms. Thiwong and 17 other women after their employer in Poland abruptly cancelled their contracts.

Ms. Vongkietpaisan said she initially helped her clients negotiate directly with the recruiters but without success. “So we took the cases to court and we won better settlements.”

Ms. Kusumal Rachawong, a coordinator for the ILO’s Economic and Social Empowerment of Migrants Project, said that “the ILO, with the support from the European Commission has proved that the labour rights of migrant workers can be protected by national laws even when they are working abroad.”

“This is now recognized by the Thai courts,” he added.

Ms. Thiwong met Mr. Boonyorat while she was pursuing her court case. The two former migrants are now married and expecting their first child.

They have no immediate plans to work abroad, but say it’s still an option for the future now that they know their rights.

Article by Allan Dow, Official at the Unit for Partnerships in the ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific.