Thais expand health benefits for migrant workers

By: Charles Parkinson

Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand are now reportedly able to access the same healthcare benefits as Thai nationals following the implementation of new regulations, although rights organisations warned yesterday that problems will persist for Cambodians across the border, the majority of whom remain undocumented.

Under new measures announced by Thailand’s Public Health Ministry and in force since April 1, migrant workers from Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar are now covered for even more medical conditions than under previous healthcare arrangements.

“The insurance covers chronic diseases, surgeries and even high-cost antiretroviral drugs,” Thai Public Health Ministry deputy permanent secretary Amnuay Gajeena on Sunday was quoted as saying in the Nation newspaper.

The coverage is comparable to that provided under the Thai universal healthcare system, and is also applicable to people who cross the border to work in Thailand each day. Under the new regulations, workers must pay about $65 for a year of coverage, $43 for six months, or $31 for three months. Children under 7 years old receive a year’s coverage for just over $11.

According to Andy Hall, international relations adviser at NGO Migrants’ Rights Network, while the increase in treatments available is positive, the new regulations are just the latest example of a shifting migration policy that confuses migrant workers. “It’s very chaotic, nobody ever knows what’s going on because the rules are always changing,” said Hall.

There are about 230,000 Cambodians working legally in Thailand, as well as approximately 640,000 undocumented workers, according to figures provided to Cambodia’s Labour Ministry by Thai authorities.

Many of those illegal workers should also benefit from the new healthcare system within a year, as Thailand implements a process of legalisation of undocumented workers due to be completed by March 2016.

Yet it is unclear what will happen to undocumented workers passing through the legalisation process who fail the health screening tests to which legal migrant workers are submitted.

Currently, migrants are refused work permits if they fail blood tests for syphilis or traces of meth, in a system heavily criticised by rights campaigners.

“There is not a clear process to refer them for support,” said Sara Piazzano, chief of party at anti-human trafficking body Winrock International.
Women must also take a pregnancy test, in order to inform their future employer whether they will be liable for maternity leave. “But that should not be necessary to get work permits,” said Piazzano.

However, Cambodia’s Labour Ministry spokesman Heng Sour said the health tests were simply a “legal procedure; even foreign workers in Cambodia go through this”.