Seasonal Workers and Sugarcane

Last week, I had the opportunity to edit a piece for Winrock International’s USAID Thailand CTIP activity on the topic of seasonal workers in the sugarcane industry. Below is an extremely brief overview of some of the factors that exacerbate the legal challenges that migrant seasonal workers face in exercising their rights while working in the sugarcane industry. 

I. Overview of Thailand’s Sugarcane Industry

Sugarcane harvesting occurs between March and December of each year in Thailand. Many of these positions within the sugarcane industry are occupied by migrant workers who either came to the country through legal or illegal means. These roles are particularly appealing to migrant workers, as they often provide housing. However, living conditions for these roles often pose numerous health and safety risks (i.e. lack of access to safe drinking water, drainage issues which exacerbate the risk of contracting dengue fever, etc.). Furthermore, as Winrock has noted, along with numerous other NGOs, migrant workers in Thailand are particularly vulnerable to labor exploitation.

II. A Lack of Adequate Legal Protections

  • Contractual

Typically, seasonal sugarcane workers enter this type of employment without a contract. The absence of a contract, which typically would have notified workers’ of the rights and privileges of their employment, makes these workers extremely vulnerable to labor exploitation.

  • Wage

There is typically a notable wage disparity between Thai and migrant workers. As migrant workers are prohibited from forming and leading unions, they often lack the proper platform to advocate for themselves on these issues.

  • A Lack of Grievance Mechanisms

These farms often lack an anonymous formalized procedure for workers to submit their grievances about their working conditions. Furthermore, studies have shown that many of these workers lack awareness of the existence of anonymous channels outside of their employers to file complaints. As fear of employer reprisal is a prominent sentiment, many migrants are suspicious that these outside channels are not truly anonymous.

III. Conclusion

Winrock International USAID Thailand CTIP is seeking to increase protections for migrant seasonal agricultural workers. The absence of a legal landscape that permits migrant unionization poses a major barrier to the guarantee of healthy and safe working conditions. In the coming year, Thailand CTIP aims to continue collecting information on the needs of migrant workers and advocating on both a private sector level and government level to increase protections for migrants who work in seasonal agriculture.