Refugee Health Workers Strike Over Claims That French Aid Group Denies Their Rights and Refuses to Pay

Health workers in two refugee camps on the Thai-Burma border stopped work over non-payment of compensation and claims that they are treated unfairly by a non-government organization running hospitals in the camp.

Camp residents said that on July 5th, health workers employed by Premiere Urgence – Aide Medical Internationale at Mae La and Umpheim Mai refugee camps went on strike after a disagreement between PU-AMI’s management and the health workers.

According to health workers sources in both refugee camps, the cause of the strike was caused by dissatisfaction over the way PU-AMI treated them in regard to their rights. PU-AMI are expected to withdraw from the three refugee camps – Mae La, Umpheim Mai and Nu Po in July. Health workers claim that PU-AMI is pulling out a month before their contract ends on August, 2016.

A senior health worker who asked not to be named told Karen News that the disagreement is over demands that they should be paid compensation until the end of August when their contract runs out and not until July when AMI has now stated that they will leave.

The health worker source said they have been treated differently from PU-AMI base staff, who based outside the refugee camp.

“We feel it is unfair that AMI agreed to pay their base staff a compensation of three month’s wages while refusing to pay us claiming that we are illegal and not entitled to compensation.”

Other PU-AMI camp staff spoken to by Karen News are angry that their years of service has been ignored and that they feel ‘insulted’ at being classified as ‘illegal’. There are 330 health workers in Mae La camp and 102 health workers in Umpheim camp as of June, 2016.

Karen News is lead to understand that PU-AMI agreed to pay their base staff who based outside the camp the compensation of three month’s wages as it was stated in their policies.

A senior refugee camp official was scathing in their criticism of AMI and said that “It is unfair to classify some staff who have worked for them for years as ‘illegal’. This is a blatant attempt to avoid meeting their obligations as employers.”

Naw Blooming Night Zan, a spokeperson and treasurer of the Karen Refugee Committee spoke to Karen News on the case.

“For this issue, we can’t listen to just one side, we will listen to both sides and see what we can do from there. We have asked for reports of detail information leading to this problem.”

Karen News understands that several meetings between health workers, camp committees, AMI and Thai officials were held to try resolve the issues. According to eye witnesses in the camp, patients went home after learning about the situation. Currently, patients were taken care of by AMI base staff from Mae Sot and Umphang respectively.

The senior health worker said that they feel upset about leaving patients, but said that they have their dignity and the responsibility to look after their family’s welfare. A senior health worker with vast experience told Karen News that AMI pay them 3,500 baht a month (around US$100).

Karen News was unable to get access to PU-AMI officials to report their comments on the claims.

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