Hundreds of Cambodian Migrants Protest Over Thai Factory Practices

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Workers gather outside the GFN chicken factory in Thailand’s Chon Buri province on November 11, 2020, in a photo posted to the Facebook page of labor rights group Central.

About 500 Cambodian migrant workers at a food production factory in Thailand’s Chon Buri province protested on Wednesday, saying that they cannot continue under the economic pressure levied by the company for the past three months.

The workers at the GFN factory, which processes chicken, rallied at the end of their shifts over three recent developments, according to a labor group: a drop in wages, notably that they no longer receive overtime payments despite an increase in workload; the company no longer paying for repairs at the workers’ accommodations; and being barred from leaving the factory grounds to buy food, forcing the workers to pay marked up prices at the company store.

Leung Sophorn, who works on migrant worker issues at labor rights NGO Central, said the protesting workers represented the grievances of about 3,000 workers at the factory.

Monthly salaries had dropped from around 15,000 to 20,000 baht a month (about $500 to $650) to around 11,000 to 13,000 baht (about $350 to $450) in the past three months due to a halt in overtime payments, Sophorn said.

The workers had to pay 600 baht a month ($20) for rental accommodations, but the company was no longer undertaking any repairs or fixes, he said.

Food at the company store, such as fruit, was marked up as much as 50 percent, and the factory was not allowing the workers to leave to get food elsewhere when they asked permission, Sophorn said.

The reason given has been Covid-19, but about 500 Thai workers at the factory have been allowed to leave freely, he said.

“This is a pressure weighing on our Khmer migrant workers who had equal freedoms before. If it is because of Covid, it should apply to everyone. Why is it only against our Khmer workers, and only at this factory?” Sophorn asked.

Sim Chanthorn, a Cambodian manager at the factory, denied that the factory forbade Cambodian workers from leaving to buy food.

The company just demands that they fill out an application form about where they intend to go and why, Chanthorn said. The workers needed to be tracked due to Covid-19 protocols, he said.

Thai workers often had their own vehicles and it was easier for them to get around, he added.

He also said there were only about 100 workers protesting. “It’s not a big issue, just a small deal,” Chanthorn said.

The factory was negotiating with the workers about prices at the company store as well as wages, he said.

Earlier this week, the Mekong Migration Network, a group of civil society organizations, issued a statement saying migrant workers in the region had been made particularly vulnerable during the pandemic.

“Many migrants work in sectors heavily impacted by the pandemic and have been made unemployed or forced to work for much-reduced pay,” it said. “To make matters worse, the vast majority of migrants and their families have little or no access to social protection safety nets.”

It urged governments in the region to work to alleviate the worst problems facing migrant workers.

“The economic shock has made an already precarious situation all the more perilous, to the extent that many face destitution and homelessness,” it said.

Governments should take measures including “ensuring safe and affordable repatriation and re-migration; access to social protection benefits; easing of health and legal document procedures for migrant workers; and guaranteeing access to justice,” the group said.

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