By reading my recent posts, my reader(s) might be inclined to think that all I do here is eat, study and interact with lizards. While that’s not an entirely inaccurate synopsis of most days, I do try and learn about things going on in this corner of the world. On occasion, my university holds events that are quite helpful in that regard. Last week, there was a panel discussion relating to migrant workers from Burma. The panel included representatives from legal, economic, educational and first-hand perspectives.
The panel discussion was timed to correspond with a photographic exhibition at the school by photographer John Hume. You can see some of his incredibly communicative photos here: In Search of a Job, Any Job
There are between 3 and 4 million migrant workers from Burma in Thailand, and they compose about 7% of the labour force. Like migrant workers everywhere, they tend to be viewed as simultaneously essential and disposable. The folks from Burma usually find themselves doing jobs that are dirty, dangerous, difficult and degrading. Factory owners often confiscate workers’ documents, and have workers deported for demanding safer working conditions or minimum wage. It’s frustrating, unfair, heartbreaking … and a ubiquitous rung on the economic ladder. I doubt there is a single country in the world that can lay claim to an economic and industrial history that’s free of widespread exploitation and abuse. Even today, Americans need only look as far as Arizona, while Canadians don’t have to go any further than Toronto’s garment district.
I wasn’t surprised that an emerging economy is exploiting the labour force of its neighbour’s ruined economy. It happens. Everywhere. Everyday. After listening to stories of people working in deplorable conditions for12+ hours/day for around $1.60/day, I was angry, frustrated, seething and heart-heavy: not surprised. What did surprise me were the gentle words coming from the young migrant worker with the brilliant smile who had come to speak with us. While my mind was whirling with angry adjectives and vitriolic verbs to describe the stories I was hearing, this young man related his experience and softly summed it up with, “The salary’s not good and it’s a little bit hard job.” What an understatement.