THAI MIGRANT WORKERS EXPLOITED ABROAD

by admin on April 7, 2010

Protection of Thailand’s Overseas Labor Force: A long way to go

The welfare of Thailand’s economy is tied to a certain portion of its own population migrating abroad in order to gain employment. According to the Thai Ministry of Labor, up to 500,000 Thai nationals seek work outside of Thailand annually.

Thai laborers wishing to work abroad are often managed by recruitment- groups which may prey on those most vulnerable – husbands supporting families, for example, whose primary source of income has been stripped away.

Handlers – owners of farms or companies employing Thai workers in the foreign country – may withhold passports and paychecks, limit outside contact, or provide inadequate living conditions.

THAI WORKERS IN HAWAII

In Hawaii, the two owners of Aloun Farms, brothers Alec and Mike Sous, pleaded guilty earlier this year to ‘conspiring to commit forced labor.’

The case involved 44 Thai migrant agricultural workers who traveled to Hawaii willingly but were then coerced by non-physical means to work for wages less than promised and less than the minimum allowed by US law.

The workers had their passports confiscated by the owners of the farm upon arrival and were reported to be living in storage containers. One of workers managed to tell their story to a counselor at a local community center. The case was then referred to the FBI and prosecuted by the Civil Rights Division within the US Department of Justice.

The two brothers await sentencing and each face a fine of $250,000 and five years in prison. As part of their plea agreement they agreed to pay restitution and assist with the ongoing federal investigation into the trafficking and employment of Thai migrant workers n Hawaii.

The Thai workers each paid $16,000 to traffickers in Thailand. This money was used to pay for air fare and visa fees. The remaining sum was split by the traffickers. The owner-brothers, however, have agreed to make payments to only 24 of the 44 workers, and only half of their original recruitment fee.

Most of the Thai workers had taken loans against their farms, homes and land in order to pay the up-front fees to the traffickers, and are now said to be facing the break-up of marriages over the financial-stress.

WHO’S RESPONSIBLE?

This trend of human trafficking and migrant labor will increase as globalization and environmental stressors caused by climate change create both economic challenges and opportunities.

For example, Thailand is currently facing a drought-emergency in more than 50 of the 76 Thai provinces. The long term drought is seriously affecting farmers’ livelihoods. The lure to search for work abroad is significant.

Many countries, such as the US, do have formal mechanisms in place meant to protect immigrant workers and trafficking victims. In the Aloun Farms case above, the recruitment occurred under the ‘guest worker program’ for temporary and seasonal agricultural workers within the U.S. Department of Labor. This program:

a) Prohibits collecting recruitment fees from workers, and 

b) Requires employers to pay for the workers’ airfare and other required transportation, and housing (including access to groceries and cooking facilities).

Under the US Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000, however, the Thai agricultural workers in this case qualify as trafficking victims and have respite under this law, including possibly accessing a T-visa, allowing them legal stay in the US. 

The problem is that Thais seeking jobs abroad in many cases do not have access to specific information concerning their rights in that country.

Of course the US should take more active steps so this well-intentioned guest-worker program is not further abused. The Thai Labour Department requires labor recruiters to register themselves, but these regulations are often circumvented by human traffickers.  

So what role does the Thai government have in proactively advocating for its own citizens’ rights who choose to work abroad? And why did the Thai worker in Hawaii report the abuse to a local community center – rather than the Thai Embassy in Hawaii?

Related Articles:

T-VISA for Victims of Human Trafficking

Related Pages:

US Visas Thailand

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

keep thais in thailand April 28, 2011 at 6:43 am

My father died at the age of 80 in LaPorte, Indiana. He was the victim of criminal behavior and the probate court has gone on to reward the perpetrators. My father was a full time practicing attorney until he had a massive coronary in the late winter of 2002 and subsequently had emergency octuple bypass surgery. His beloved wife of 25 years had a stroke months later and lived at The Life Care Center in Michigan City. They traveled the world together and shared a lakefront home in Duneland Beach, which was sold in May of 2002. My father moved to a golf course condo in Michigan City. He went on to work a day or two a week and visited his wife twice daily while taking a litany of medications to prolong his life.

At the time of his death he had a new will less than two weeks old that gave the bulk of his estate to Srisangud Tulayasook, a thai nurse who had been looking after him. It also named Srisangud Tulayasook as executor. The most significant family members in his life were each left $100 in the revised will. My name is not even spelled correctly on this vital document. My father was an educated articulate man who loved his wife and family. It makes no sense he would name Srisangud Tulayasook executer of his estate. The court saw her as incapable and allowed her to pick Steve Wolfinsohn, a person unknown to any family members to serve as personal representative. My father’s death certificate is full of fraudulent information from his marital status to the next of kin, all provided by Srisangud Tulayasook. We were not even notified he had died until his body was on the way to Minnesota for burial. His house and property were ransacked by Thai immigrants with silver, jewelry, and antique rugs disappearing within hours. Like the death certificate, his will was manipulated into a fraudulent document the court recognized as valid.
I talked with my father on the phone nearly every day for the previous 30 years and saw him weekly until I was suddenly excluded from every aspect of his life. I called for weeks trying to talk to my father only to be laughed at by Srisangud Tulayasook and told he wasn’t home or he was too busy to come to the phone. I did finally get through and spoke briefly with my father one last time and was told $400 was missing from his desk and I’d taken it. My father was a generous man and had I needed money he would have given it to me. I contacted the Michigan City Police department the spring of 2006 and the chief told me everything was fine and dandy. It was not. My brother and his family were similarly excluded from my father’s life and my nephew went on to commit suicide.

I am not the only one who believes Srisangud Tulayasook exerted undue influence in my father’s life. I am not the only one who belives she killed him. She had a severe gambling problem. She had no human right to interfere at this vulnerable time as my father’s life came to an end. This was elder abuse. She took adb\vantage of him. They had known each other for years but this had progressed into a peculiar relationship where she controlled his life in an inappropriate manner. The last day I spent with my father he confided in me he wanted to use a catheter for one of his many health problems but Srisangud would not allow it. I knew immediately something was wrong, as this would have been a personal choice for him and him alone.

Prophetically, Srisangud went on to drown in a car accident on the way to casino. It was in my father’s car. That left the scant amount left of my father’s estate to her sister Juntip Noomnam aka Jan Noomnam, aka Juntip Tulayasook, aka Jan Tulayasook. She was a likely accomplice in looting his home and bank accounts. I believe they conspired together to take over his assets. Public property records show she made a windfall buyout to Jumlong Noomnam on property immediately after my father sold his million-dollar home and another transaction in 2008 days after the revised will was written. There will be a tax trail where this cash came from that is being persued. We tried unsuccessfully to contest the probate. It’s likely too late to recover any assets but the pain has permanently affected our family in a scope you can’t imagine.

Indiana has laws to protect the elderly and disabled from predators and it’s the court’s responsibility to uphold them but they failed. We deserve for the truth to be uncovered. I will do all I can to publicize the information and fight for national legislation to protect the elderly and disabled from this type of crime. If just one innocent family is spared what we have gone through it will be well worth the time.

The Tulayasook family has connections to the Supreme Court in Thailand. Srisangud has a brother in law either now serving or retired. In this regard it should be considered dangerous for any American to travel to Thailand or associate with Thai people.

keep thais in thailand April 28, 2011 at 11:57 am

The estate of Srisangud Tulaysook is on probate in Iindiana being claimed by Juntip Tuilayaook Noomnam. Noomnam claimed there was no will and her sister died intestate. The property Srisangud Tulaysook owned in Thailand will be under scrutinity. The brother in law who is a Supreme Court official in Thailand has sons that have no inherient right to the estate of my father. My father did not work his life to have it swindled by Thai immigrants. Who is this brother In law?

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