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Facebook Post Sparks Landmark Labor Lawsuit

Natural eggs from chickens are seen for sale at a local Farmers Market in Annandale, Virginia, August 8, 2013. (Photo: PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter
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Burmese migrant workers in Thailand launched a major lawsuit after a Facebook post revealed the sad state of their working conditions, reports Reuters.

Tun Tun Win and 13 Burmese co-workers have filed suit against their employers for illegal salary reductions, passport seizures, and freedom of movement restrictions. They are demanding $1.3 million in compensation.

The group worked at Thammakaset chicken farm, a supplier for Betagro, which exports agricultural products around the world. Thammakaset and Betagro are both under fire.

They worked 20 hours a day for 40 days straight. Then, they worked 10 hours days every day for three weeks. In return for their services, they were promised a little over $6 a day, as well as free room and board with electricity included. The Burmese migrant workers initially thought this was a fair deal.

The minimum wage in Thailand is $8.60. Thammakaset owner Chanchai Pheamphon was pulling money out for rent and electricity without informing his employees. He also let his workers believe that if they worked overnight, they would receive greater compensation. Furthermore, he deducted 14 cents for employee failures to collect dead chickens.

“We thought our employer was a nice guy,” Tun Tun Win told Reuters reporters. The workers had no idea they were being exploited, at least until Tun Tun Win bought a new phone.

After being introduced to Facebook, he stumbled across a post by the Migrant Worker Rights Network (MWRN) about how exploited Burmese migrant tuna plant workers who worked unbelievably long hours for outrageously low wages in Thailand received $1 million in a settlement back in March. The MWRN post inspired Tun Tun Win and other workers to file a lawsuit against their employer.

An estimated three million migrant workers live in Thailand; they make up 10 percent of Thailand’s labor force. Roughly 80 percent of Thailand’s migrant workers hail from Myanmar.

Andy Hall, a migrant rights activist who was indicted on criminal charges last year after releasing a report criticizing one of Thailand’s largest pineapple processors for labor violations, is reportedly consulting on the case.

“We’re trying to hold Betagro responsible for the system of contract farming. If we can, it will have huge implications for contract farming and the responsibility of corporate supply chains across Thailand,” Hall told reporters.

“Migrant workers from Burma, Cambodia, and Laos are vulnerable to abuses by police and government authorities and to exploitation by employers and criminals, including sexual violence and extreme labor exploitation,” Human Rights Watch revealed in a statement on Thailand’s human rights situation.

Chanchai Pheamphon told reporters that he was not clear on the requirements of the law and admitted to underpaying staff. He denied all other allegations and criticized the lawsuit, claiming that it has put his chicken farm out of business. Betagro has also denied involvement in any human rights violations.

“These people just don’t understand that what they’re doing is abuse,” Hall told reporters in response.

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