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Shortage of migrant labour hits key sectors

Jul 10. 2017
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By The Nation

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MANY SECTORS, including construction in the capital, fisheries in the South and agriculture in border areas, are facing labour shortages due to the tough new labour law, sources said yesterday as migrant workers began returning to Thailand.

A construction site of the Red Line train (Bang Sue-Rangsit) needed to slow down after many Myanmar workers left their work to reprocess work permits, an official said. 

Workers at the construction site at Bang Sue central terminal also left work, even though they did not need to: they incorrectly believed that their “pink card” was no longer valid under the new law, the official added. He noted that those workers might take 10-20 days to check or reprocess the register before getting back to work.

However, other construction sectors were less affected by the new law, since major construction firms usually hire legal workers, according to an official at the State Railway of Thailand who declined to be named. 

Millions of migrant workers in Thailand were in a chaotic situation over the past week after the government issued a new decree to manage migrant workers. The decree took effect on June 23, threatening fines for employers of at least Bt400,000 for every illegal worker they hire. 

Only a few days after the decision, Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha last Tuesday invoked his special powers under Article 44 to suspend four key articles of the decree until the end of the year. The suspended articles prescribe much harsher penalties against offending migrants and their employers until the end of this year. 

The suspension came too late for many companies, as thousands of legal and illegal workers panicked over the tough punishment and rushed to go to their home countries to process or reprocess their work permits and to register. More than 50,000 migrant workers reportedly returned home since last month, mostly to Myanmar and Cambodia. 

In order to end the chaos, the Labour Ministry will allow all Thai employers to register their Lao, Cambodian and Myanmar workers at temporary centres throughout the country from July 24 to August 7. 

While Prime Minister Prayut said earlier that he believed the workers from neighbouring countries would return to work in Thailand as there are demands in the market, Nit Ouitengkor, former president of Ranong Chamber of Commerce, said they might not return due to complicated legal procedures. There are more jobs available in their countries, including Myanmar, since the economy there is now growing faster than Thailand’s, he said. 

Ranong is Thailand’s southern port province, sitting next to Myanmar. The province is home to some of the most important fishery piers in the country. 

Many piers in the province yesterday were seen almost empty, while some were working with only half of the normal workforce. While it is estimated that more than 5 million migrants from neighbouring countries are working in Thailand currently, it is estimated that only half of them are documented. 

In the eastern border province of Sa Kaew, where there is a shortage of farm workers, local authorities coordinated with their Cambodian counterparts to encourage workers to cross the border to work. Many Cambodian workers have fled due to the new labour law in the past month, leaving many farms in trouble during the growing season. 

Sa Kaew provincial immigration chief, Benjapon Rodsawad, said Cambodian people are allowed to cross the border to work temporarily in the area in order to ease the current labour shortage.

With border pass papers, Cambodians would be allowed to enter and stay in Sa Kaew and neighbouring Pachin Buri province for seven days, he said, “so we have to strictly check their document in order prevent them from going deeper to other provinces or the capital”. 

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