Burmese firms set up shop in Thailand

By: KING-OUA LAOHONG
Published: 18/05/2009 at 12:00 AM
Bangkok Post Newspaper section: News

Burmese companies are moving production bases from Rangoon to Kanchanaburi's Sangkhla Buri district to avoid US and British trade sanctions.

The firms fear products labelled "Made in Burma" will be rejected abroad, particularly in the US and Britain, where there are trade sanctions against the country, said a business owner.

The Hush Puppies shoe-making factory, which employs more than 1,500 workers, is among companies which have relocated from the former Burmese capital to Kanchanaburi's western border district.

Many others are shifting production to Tak's Mae Sot district, where several firms from Bangkok, Samut Prakan and Nakhon Pathom have relocated recently to take advantage of the district's cheaper labour. Most border factories are dependent on Burmese migrant labour who rent houses on the Burmese side of the border and cross over to work, the source said.

"The Burmese work in factories on the Thai side and return home after work. Most have a good education and are skilled," the source said.

They are not illegal workers and have no intention of moving to Bangkok because they have stable work.

Though they are paid less than the minimum daily wage, their work does not involve the risks faced by illegal aliens working in big cities. Aye Chan, a Karen employed in a leather tanning factory in Sangkhla Buri, said she completed 12th grade in the Karen town of Thanbyuzayat.

She and her younger sister have been crossing the border to work in the factory for two years and receive 70 baht each a day.

"Our wages here are higher than in Burma," she said. "We are happy working here and never dream of better paid jobs in Bangkok as we are afraid of being lured into the flesh trade."

Mya, 23, a Burmese from Moulmein township, said her family was very poor and could not make ends meet selling wood to Thai traders, so she decided to work at the tannery to help her family.

A security source said Kanchanaburi not only faces an influx of illegal alien workers but also has problems involving child sex as gangs prey on under-age migrant workers, mostly Karen and Mon.

There are at least four brothels operating in the town centre in Sangkhla Buri and near a bus terminal.

Pinyo Weerasuksawat, a labour activist, said Thailand now has about 1.2 million migrant workers.

The Burmese and Karen mostly work in the fishing industry and related businesses in Samut Sakhon and Samut Prakan provinces.

Employers protect their illegal workforce by bribing local police to turn a blind eye, the source said.