the Spotlight Thailand has introduced new laws aimed at controlling the number of illegal migrant workers in the country; however a 6 month suspension of the laws was announced soon after the enactment.
Foreigners found working without a work permit face fines of between 2,000 – 100,000 THB or imprisonment for a maximum of 5 years. Foreigners who engage in work different to that which is registered in their work permit will be fined up to 100,000 THB. Under the new laws, people who employ foreign workers illegally will also face tougher punishments, with employers set to face fines of between 400,000 – 800,000 THB for each foreigner they employ illegally.
The Executive Decree on the Management of Foreign Workers Act 2017 that came into effect on June 23rd is aimed at controlling the amount of migrant workers in the country, as well as foreigners who work in Thailand illegally. However in July Deputy Prime Minister for Legal Affairs Wissanu Krea-ngam confirmed that invoking Article 44 of the interim constitution will delay enforcement of the migrant labor law. While the enforcement is suspended, migrants illegally working in Thailand are granted impunity to travel back to their home country to apply for a work permit. Following the suspension, the Prime Minister urged society not to overreact to the government’s new Royal Decree but affirmed that the regulation is needed and employers and employees must comply to its rules.
DPM Wissanu gave a strong assurance that during the 6-month suspension of the law, there will be no arrests, detentions, or charges pressed against foreign workers traveling in and out of the country. More than 500 illegal migrant workers from Cambodia and Myanmar have been abandoned by their employers or had left their jobs under threat of punishment. The workers were left stranded when their employers refused to take them back. In Mae Sot district, bordering Myanmar, more than 400 illegal Myanmar workers were reported to have crossed back into their country after Thai businesses decided not to hire them following the enactment of the decree. Job brokers were also said to have stopped seeking illegal migrant workers for fear of being arrested or heavily punished. Employment Department director general Waranon Pitiwan said that during the first few months of implementation there may be manpower shortages in the construction sector, house maids and SME workers.
Workers from Thailand’s poorest neighbors, particularly Myanmar and Cambodia, make up the backbone of the manual labor force and many industries, including a multibillion dollar seafood industry, are heavily reliant on foreign workers.
Migrant workers are employed at many construction sites. It has been reported that a severe labor shortage will lead to a steep rise in seafood prices in Thailand. More than 3,500 fishing boats have remained in port as more than 80,000 crew members have left their jobs. Estimates indicate that the price of seafood may go up by 70% during the high season months of November 2017-February 2018. The Kasikorn Research Centre has warned that the new foreign labor laws could have significant impact on some industries, particularly the agricultural sector as it caused thousands of migrant workers to leave. The centre said the absence of migrant workers could cause 12.4 billion THB of damages to the economy, accounting for 0.03% of country’s GDP.
The new law requires all migrant workers to hold proper documents prior to be employed in Thailand, unlike past practices where some workers enter the country and work prior to have their nationality verified to obtain documents. The Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) has stepped up its work to create understanding towards the intentions of the decree, underlining that it mandates proper treatment of migrant workers and adherence to labor laws.
Thailand is home to nearly four million migrant workers who account for 10% of the country’s active workforce. With an unemployment rate at a mere 1.2%, the help of these migrants has been instrumental in keeping the economy buzzing for decades.