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Phuket Opinion: The Expendables

Phuket Opinion: The Expendables

PHUKET: The Rawai building collapse last Sunday (Aug 11) has brought home a few hard truths about Phuket and the Myanmar migrant worker community that the island has come to rely on.

opinionMyanmarconstructiondeatheconomicsculturetourism
By The Phuket News

Sunday 18 August 2019, 09:00AM


A lone rescue worker checks the site from the side as his other rescue teams begin scouring the debris for survivors last Sunday (Aug 11). Photo: Eakkapop Thongtub

A lone rescue worker checks the site from the side as his other rescue teams begin scouring the debris for survivors last Sunday (Aug 11). Photo: Eakkapop Thongtub

The building collapse killed three Myanmar men and left eight others injured in hospital, and shone a light on a long-awaited change in attitude towards how the work done by Myanmar workers in Phuket is being perceived.

We praise the attitude by Deputy Chief Lt Col Somsak Sopakarn vowing that charges will be pressed for the deadly building collapse. His message was clear: Myanmar lives matter. Not so long ago that was easily not the case.

Of course we will need to see how far Col Somsak’s promise goes once the charge has been filed and the issue falls into the hands of the upper echelons of bureaucracy, where business comes first. There is no way high-end officials will want a developer to be held responsible when tradition dictates that it is much more convenient to blame the dead – or a lesser influential yet always unnamed official whose punishment remains hidden behind a veil of obscurity.

According to the latest figures on the Phuket Employment Office website, as of 2016 Phuket was home to 61,275 legally registered migrant workers from Myanmar – 37,259 men and 24,016 women.

Of course there are much more than that, those still not registered and the families who have moved here with their breadwinnner, working for B330 a day as what is laughably called the “Thai minimum wage” – laughably because very few Thais will labour for that money. The “minimum wage in Thailand” is a more appropriate moniker.

Yet labour our Myanmar migrant worker residents do. This group of people literally built Phuket over the past two decades, and as last Sunday proved, at times at great cost.

Also, a vast majority of those actually labouring on the fishing boats operating out of Phuket Fishing Post bring home the seafood that is sold on to tourists and gulped up by island residents.

Ask any Thai employer, if they can hire a Myanmar worker to do a job they will. A quick check of the local restaurants frequented by Thais – not the tourist traps – will unearth a Myanmar worker in the kitchen and/or serving you your food.

These people literally built our tourism accommodation venues and they continue to put food on our plates. We need to respect that.

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