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Migrants help drive growth in Thailand, other countries: UN report

Mar 01. 2016
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By The Nation

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MIGRANT WORKERS contribute significantly to the Thai economy, but can also have negative impacts on Thai workers in agriculture, according to the United Nations.

The UN’s “Asia-Pacific Migration Report 2015: Migrants’ Contributions to Development” released on Monday showed that in agriculture, migrants reduced the employment of Thais by 0.7 per cent and wages of Thais by 4.3 per cent, reflecting a high level of substitutability.

In manufacturing, migrants increase the employment of Thai workers by 0.3 per cent, although wages for Thais are still reduced by 2.4 per cent.

“Employment of migrants in agriculture and manufacturing increased productivity in these sectors, although this was through enabling the use of labour-intensive production rather than increased investment in technology,” the report said.

Figures showed that in the 39.4-million-strong labour force in 2012, the 2 million migrant workers from Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar accounted for at least 5 per cent. Most filled low-skill jobs in Bangkok and the southern and northwestern provinces.

About 40 per cent were hired in agriculture and fisheries and the same percentage in industry and construction. The remaining 20 per cent were found in services such as domestic work.

Based on the Thailand Development Research Institute’s model, in 1995, when 750,000 migrants accounted for 2.2 per cent of the labour force, they helped increase gross domestic product by 0.55 percentage point, adding US$839 million to the $168-billion GDP.

Applying the same model with the number of migrants in 2013, it found that migrant contribution totalled $4.4 billion or 1.1 per cent of GDP worth $387 billion.

The report by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (Escap) also pointed out that in 2013, Thailand was in the top 10 destination countries in the Asia-Pacific region. While Russia was on top with 11 million migrants, Thailand ranked fifth with 3.72 million.

The report highlighted the under-acknowledged fact that migrants from countries across the region play a key role as development actors, helping drive GDP in their countries of destination while also supporting families and communities in their countries of origin.

Evidence suggests that more than 95 million people from Asia-Pacific countries lived outside their countries of birth, and that the region hosted more than 59 million migrants.

While there are many reasons to migrate, most of these people are temporary workers. The Asia-Pacific region also hosts more than 5.5 million refugees, and three of the main refugee-hosting countries in the world are in this region.

The scale of migration is only likely to increase, but migrants still face hardships and abuse. Action needs to be taken to maximise these benefits by ensuring that migration is orderly, safe, regular and responsible, the report says.

There is prejudice against migration, while countries should make migration policies that are aligned with national development priorities and promote conditions of dignity and respect for the rights of migrant workers.

“Business as usual risks heightening inequality, holding back advances in productivity and facilitating human-rights abuses,” Hongjoo Hahm, deputy executive secretary of Escap, said on behalf of the Asia-Pacific RCM Thematic Working Group on International Migration, including human trafficking, which includes 15 members from the UN system and the International Organisation for Migration.

“Positive outcomes require policies aligned with national development strategies and international standards promoting fair recruitment, decent and productive employment and social protection.”

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