When Finding Your Voice Means Speaking Up for Others
After finishing high school 24 years back, Wah Wah struggled to find work in her hometown in Myanmar – owing to political instability and a competitive job market.
“My neighbour at that time, who was working in Thailand, told me about the job opportunities there and the possibility of earning more money.”
Intrigued by the prospect and hope of building a better life, she moved to Thailand. The same neighbour helped her find a job as a salesclerk at a clothing store in Mae Sot, in northern Thailand.
After four years of working in Mae Sot*, she moved to Bangkok. A fellow Myanmar migrant worker introduced her to an employer looking for a domestic worker.
Ever since, for the past 20 years, she has been a domestic worker. “Being a domestic worker has not been easy. We continue to face discrimination and challenges when accessing social protection. Working hours remain uncertain, with little time off.”
The situation worsened when she became pregnant. As domestic workers in Thailand are not covered under maternity protection, she was out of a job and had to rely on her husband’s small salary.
“I couldn’t work during my pregnancy. We struggled to cover the hospital expenses and were left with the bare minimum to fend for our new-born child. Due to this, I had to go back to work right after a few weeks of giving birth, leaving my son in the care of my relatives.”
After this experience, Wah Wah has been more vigilant in learning about and advocating for her rights as a domestic worker.
“We deserve equal access to social protection.”
“Like any other worker, we contribute to the economy. We clean, cook and look after our employer’s household and family, while they go to work. I take care of my employer's home and family as if it were my own. I perform my job well, so in turn my employer can productively contribute to the Thai economy'” she says.
“My rights as a domestic worker are as important as any other worker’s rights.”
Wah Wah says being a domestic worker allows her to provide for her family and save money.
“One day, I want to open a small restaurant of my own back in my home country. I already have sales experience from my previous job in a clothing shop and hospitality skills gained as a domestic worker.”
She hopes to improve her digital literacy and entrepreneurial skills. Having participated in skills training and peer-to-peer networking workshops, she believes she is one step closer to achieving her dream.
*Note: Migrant workers in Thailand often return to their countries of origin in between periods of employment. According to Thai law, after four years of employment, migrant workers are required to return to their countries of origin for one month.
Wah Wah is one of over 5,900 migrant workers (as of November 2022) in Thailand who have benefitted from skills development trainings through IOM’s Poverty Reduction through Safe Migration, Skills Development and Enhanced Job Placement (PROMISE) programme – a regional initiative aimed at increasing migrant workers' access to gainful employment and enhanced protection.
Like any other worker, we contribute to the economy. I take care of my employer's home and family as if it were my own. My rights as a domestic worker are as important as any other worker’s rights.