Burmese workers are employed by the truckload (literally) for construction in Thailand. They are paid far below the minimum wage and work day, night, weekends, public holidays and during torrential rain.
Most of the big contractors, Thai and foreign, bring in Burmese workers for these exact reasons. It’s not far off slave labour. The Burmese are not allowed to travel around Thailand on their own accord. They are collected in open pick-up trucks from their cheaply self- made labour camps, driven to the work site and taken home again in the evenings. They are so crammed in they cling to each other to stop themselves from falling out. The way they fan out makes me think of a human ice cream stuffed into a cone. Their skin is very dark from working in the direct sunlight all day long.
Fin and I walk past two or three construction sites on our morning stroll before it gets too hot. Normally we arrive later and they are already working, sweat glistening on the men’s backs as they pass bricks to one another in a human conveyor belt. But today I catch them before they have started.
Their simple tents and tin shacks bustle with life as everyone starts preparing for the day. I think they bring out their entire families as I see children playing with stray dogs while their mothers try and get them dressed. I see a man, strong and lean, squatting next to a bucket of water rubbing soap on his face in circular movements. A thin trail of white smoke snakes upwards from a little fire which is slowly heating something up in a bowl.
The entire site has a green mesh netting around it but there are holes and ‘doorways’ everywhere that Fin desperately tries to dart through to play with the kids. I notice a massive freshly concreted piece of wall, about 3 story’s high. On closer inspection I see there are lots of playful drawings in the cement. Obviously when it was still wet, the children and their parents had some fun carving smiling faces and other shapes into it.
The entire camp is well organized but bare and dusty. It’s hard to imagine how anyone could sleep in tin shacks with no ventilation or fan in his heat. The temperature in the city barely goes down a degree after midnight.
Despite a great deal of ancient animosity between Thai and Burmese people, Thai street vendors cater to this massive market of legal aliens. They cycle past the sites squeezing their hooters or ringing little bells, each sound distinct and no doubt a code to what is being sold. I see frozen fruit flavoured ice lollies, plastic packs containing three cigarettes, liver kebabs and lotto tickets.
These Burmese workers have no rights. There is no union or governing body to look out for their needs or safety. Although no doubt grateful for the work and income they receive, I can’t help but feel how they, and their Thai counterparts, are being robbed of a proper living and their basic human rights because of uncontrolled greed and economic progress.


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