Who we are (Our Team):
We are a small group of volunteers from Vancouver, Canada, working with the BLSO in the Thai border town of Mae Sot.
Presently the BLSO Executive Director is Than Doke, a former political prisoner from Burma who was instrumental in the creation of the BLSO in 2000; and the BLSO Learning Centre's Education Director, Shwe Sin. Shwe Sin is also the President of the Burmese Migrant Teachers Association. The BLSO has a Board of Directors and an active Parent Teacher's Association.
In Vancouver, we are Mike Orders, a retired Staff Representative for the BC Government and Service Employees' Union (BCGEU); Rod Germaine, a retired Labour Arbitrator; Mary Rowles, a retired Director of the BCGEU and Andrea Duncan, a sitting Vice-President and long time international solidarity activist.
What we do:
From Canada, we raise money for and remain in constant contact with, either in person or by email, the BLSO. In Thailand, the BLSO continues, year after year, to fulfill their Four Goals:
- To train workers on their employment rights: The BLSO conducts training workshops for migrant workers to help secure their rights pursuant to Thai Labour Law;
- To advocate for workers in the Thai courts: The BLSO, with the assistance of Thai labour lawyers who have agreed to work pro-Bono, has been successful in a number of court cases where Employer's have failed to pay according to Thai labour law and in the result, have secured large retroactive payouts for those so aggrieved;
- To help workers organize and form unions: It is difficult under Thai labour law to form de facto trade unions with collective bargaining rights. That said, organizing is still important for migrant workers to be able to insure their rights within Thailand are respected and adhered to.
- To run the school for workers’ children: Since 2001, the BLSO determined that a school was needed to make sure the children of migrant workers had an opportunity to learn to read and write. This is truly a success story as the BLSO Learning Centre has had many kids go on to finish high school and even University after their beginnings with the BLSO. Today the Learning Centre has an enrolment of over 160 children ranging in age from 5 to 12, in K1, K2, and Grades 1 through 5.
How we do it:
In Canada we have been able to conduct a series of awareness campaigns through personal contact and presentations. We have brought the issue of Burmese migrant workers to trade union's, Employer's and Arbitrators. We have conducted fundraisers, secured money from donors, and even hosted trips to the Thai/Burma border so that activists from Canada
have an opportunity to see the living conditions of and meet with migrant workers and their families, and hear their stories.
In Mae Sot, Than Doke keeps us up to date with reports on BLSO activities, along with photographs. Mike Orders visits with the BLSO many times each year, visits the school, and attends meetings and training workshops with migrant workers. Seeing first hand the work being done and then reporting directly back to donors in Canada.
How we provide funds to the BLSO:
We have traditionally had two primary organizations providing the base funding for the BLSO; the BCGEU provides approximately one-third of the annual budget while Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA from Australia provided the remaining two-thirds. However, APHEDA has informed us that effective on June 30, 2018, their funding for the BLSO will end. This will leave the annual budget short of $25,000 Canadian.
This brings us to a critical point in our long and productive history with the BLSO. Although the primary asset of the BLSO, the Learning Centre and the land it is on are paid for, there is an overhead of annual costs that cannot be met with the funding that remains from the BCGEU. This includes wages for the teachers, the Education Director and the Executive Director; school supplies for the children; water; septic disposal; property taxes; maintenance and cleaning, and electricity for the school. Plus, the costs associated with training programs, advocacy in the courts and on the expenses for organizing.
Than Doke, Shwe Sin and Mike Orders have met a few times in Mae Sot over the last few months going through a number of ideas and strategies to offset this loss of funding. Our ability to charge families for the enrolment of their children is not feasible as it is not affordable. All three of us agree that the Learning Centre is the highest priority, however, two decades of migrant worker assistance is also in jeopardy.