Activists Slam Labor Ministry Cancelling COVID Tests for 30,000 Migrant Workers

People stand in lines to get COVID-19 tests in Samut Sakhon, South of Bangkok, Thailand, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020. Photo: Jerry Harmer / AP

BANGKOK — Migrant workers rights activists slammed a decision by the Ministry of Labour Wednesday to end a project to carry out active COVID-19 testing on 30,000 high-risk migrant workers from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia in Metropolitan Bangkok. 

The decision, which appeared in a letter dated July 5, cited scarce resources and medical personnel due to the latest coronavirus outbreak.

“This is a failed policy and the government’s inability to prioritize. No one will be safe as a result if one group of people is not safe,” Koreeyor Manuchae, coordinator of Migrant Working Group said. The group is a consortium of 30 NGOs nationwide working for the rights and betterment of migrant workers in Thailand.

Koreeyor said that those at highest risk should have access to tests and medical care first. “It’s a failure and naivety on part of the state and will put everyone at risk. We should not be indifferent simply because they’re not Thai,” she said, adding that some migrant workers who have become infected are unable to secure hospital beds.

The government announcement, first obtained by some Thai employers of migrant workers and signed by the Employment Department Director General Pairoj Chotikasathien, was titled “Announcement Cancelling Public Health Assistance to Aliens.”

It partly states: “At present hospitals are facing public health problems such as shortage of medical personnel, hospital beds, ventilators and medical equipment…so they are unable to carry out specific tasks set by the Employment Department. The Labour Minister thus decided to end the project.”

Sompong Srakaew, director of the Labour Protection Network said he’s currently trying to persuade the ministry otherwise.

“I’m in discussion with the Minister of Labour,” said Sompong on the phone Wednesday, a week after the letter was issued.

 Sompong described the move as a “license to kill migrant workers facing COVID-19 crisis in Thailand”.

“They are letting these people die a slow death,” he said.

 The director of the Department of Employment was unreachable as of press time Wednesday.