Wed, July 06, 2022

perspective

A bull in the workforce china shop


Our misguided government seeks to fix delicate migrant-labour issues with a sledgehammer

A four-month grace period before enforcing the new decree governing the employment of migrant workers is not enough. The government needs to step back and revamp its strategy for tackling what is admittedly an exasperating situation. Tough penalties on their own will only create new problems.
The government issued the decree on June 23, threatening illegal workers and those who employ them with hefty fines – up to Bt800,000 per worker in the case of employers. Permits for bringing in foreign labourers already cost a significant amount, so it’s not as though the country derives no income from the arrangement. That permit costs Bt20,000 and every extension another Bt20,000, the same fees charged for work permits and their extensions. If every migrant worker in Thailand – the number is estimated at five million – had a licence and work permit, the government could buy another half-dozen submarines from China. 
Obeying the existing laws would cripple small and medium-sized enterprises that employ between 10 and 20 foreign workers. To operate legally, a small-scale construction contractor with 10 migrant workers would need to spend Bt200,000 on the required fees. Of course, if the same firm chose to ignore the law and employ illegal workers, it would risk bankruptcy – the fine could be Bt8 million. 
The new decree’s dramatic hike in fines has prompted Thai employers to send thousands of migrant workers back home in recent days. Hundreds more lacking permits have been arrested. The decree and the crackdown it triggered have created severe difficulties for some business sectors that rely on a cheap foreign workforce, whether legal or illegal. The Board of Trade and the Federation of Thai Industries have called on the government to ease the pressure on employers. It’s being urged to begin a new round of registrations for migrants and to give employers a role in drafting fresh regulations.
In response, the government has pointed out that further registrations would violate Thailand’s agreements with Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia. Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said it remains committed, too, to getting illegal foreign workers out of the Thai fisheries industry as part of its efforts to combat human trafficking. It is worried that a fresh invitation for foreigners to register would open the gates to another influx.
If trafficking is really part of the motivation behind last week’s announcement, senior officials like Wissanu should surely know that a major crackdown will only open the door for crime syndicates to take over the trade. The idea of imposing huge fines in a bid to try and block illegal labour is absurd. As long as there is demand for their labour here and relatively better pay than elsewhere, the migrant works will keep coming, and if they have to rely on trafficking agents, then so be it.
The use of migrant workers certainly needs to be properly managed, but the government is being unrealistic in merely wielding heavy fines. An alternative approach is needed, conceived with respect for the fact that the Thai economy relies enormously on its foreign workforce. As long as the economy needs migrant workers and can absorb them, no effort to restrict or bar them should be contemplated. Such measures will hurt Thais more than any foreigners.

Published : July 03, 2017

By : The Nation