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Migrant worker wins labour case against factory     

Like many others, 39 year old Ma Sue Sue crossed the Moei River from Myanmar to Mae Sot (Thailand), in search of a better life. Ma Sue Sue worked in factories in Mae Sot for 16 years, 13 of which in the Alpha Factory. In January 2017, the Myanmar factory manager (a trusted aid to the owner), started to close the factory after only one or two hours, cutting down the pay. For months this continued, leaving Ma Sue Sue and other workers financially vulnerable and economically unstable.

For those who stayed on during those difficult months of uncertainty and under-employment another tactic was used.  From May onwards, the trusted manager began making home-visits to workers with a document written in Thai (which they cannot understand) and explained that if they refused to sign the paper, they would be stripped of their work permits, and turned over Thai authorities- a weighty threat. As the majority of migrant workers are unaware of their rights, many factory workers signed the document, offering a ‘voluntary’ resignation.

It was later revealed that the Alpha factory was planning to close as a garment factory and relocating and reopening as an electrical appliance factory, leaving behind all the garment workers. No one was officially informed of the closure.

Despite several visits from the factory manager to her residence in attempts to persuade and pressure her into signing the resignation, Ma Sue Sue was one of the few who refused to sign the forms. She went on, “I was afraid to leave my house because I didn’t want the manager to see me and follow me”. Ma Sue Sue lives alone without any family in Mae Sot.

Eventually the factory closed and left Ma Sue Sue in a depressed mood and in a state of limbo.

During this period a partner of ECMA[1], came in contact with Ma Sue Sue. After hearing her story they referred her to the paralegal training, where she learnet about labour laws, rights and responsibility of employers and employees, the labour protection act, and where/how to seek justice. 

“Immediately after the Paralegal training, I decided to report my case,” she said.  

Ma Sue Sue reported her case to the Labour Law Clinic, an ECMA partner offering free legal consultation services to migrant workers.  Her case was processed in June, but she refused the results of the first round of mediation and continued to fight for justice.  Ma Sue Sue describes in detail the second round of facilitated mediation in July 2017: “When I walked into the room I was wearing the ECMA/ADRA polo t-shirt I got at the paralegal training and brought along the paralegal training handout and certificate I received. The authorities noticed it and asked to see the handout. I think they realized that I am a strong female migrant who has knowledge about legal rights and procedures and that I would not be easily manipulated by my employer”.

Ma Sue Sue won her case and was eligle to £564 from the Alpha factory as severance pay for wrongful dismissal from her job, as well as continued sponsoring for her visa.

When asked why she didn’t go to authorities in the first place, she responded, “Before I attended the paralegal training, I had no idea what to do about my situation. Though I knew that I was in the right and my employer in the wrong, I felt helpless.”

Unfortunately, Ma Sue Sue outcome is not the rule but the exception. The situation of labour exploitation, abuse of labour rights, and lack of knowledge on what to do in such cases- is most common in Mae Sot. The ECMA project, with its partners and activities created a channel for Ma Sue Sue, without which, she would have never known what to do about her case.

Ma Sue Sue has been invited to share her story in Bangkok on World Migrants Day (18 December 2018), where over 400 people will attend. She remains an active member of the paralegal alumni group, posting updates on labour laws and sharing her story on social media.

[1] The Enhanced Capacities for Migrant Advocacy (ECMA) project in Mae Sot is implemented by ADRA Thailand, with funding from the EU and ADRA-UK. The project focuses on improving and protecting the occupational safety and health conditions of factory migrant workers in Mae Sot. ECMA aims to do this through strengthening the capacity of local migrant worker-led organizations and Thai civil society organizations to enable them to effectively advocate for the improvement of the labour rights in Mae Sot.