The Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) has recommended the use of an amnesty to start foreign labour employment reforms and solving the labour shortage.
TDRI research director for labour development Yongyuth Chalamwong claims the foreign labour employment problem and Thailand’s demotion to the US State Department’s lowest tier for human trafficking are inter-linked.
“In past decade, Thailand couldn’t seriously and transparently reform foreign worker employment. We are still neglecting [many issues] by compromising and using a half-amnesty – arrests, fines and continuing the employment, thus the problem accumulated,” Yongyuth said.
He said Thailand still didn’t know the real demand for foreign workers and it didn’t know where these workers were or what they were doing.
According to reports over the past decade, demand for foreign labour was between up to three million people, or under 6 per cent of the country’s manpower.
For lasting reform, an amnesty needs to be implemented to provide a chance to start anew for employers, foreign workers and accompanying people, he urged.
This would allow them to be legally registered and be inside the system, while also preventing gangs from taking advantage of them, he said, adding that the current political situation provided a chance to solve this problem.
The following recommendations were applicable to all professions except the fisheries sector, he added.
Firstly, the arrest of illegal migrant workers should be postponed and instead be handled by a “Complete Foreign Labour Management” policy, whereby employers are required to register labourers, legal and illegal, and accompanying people.
While legal workers could continue working for another two years, illegal workers would have to either submit to the work permit application process or be deported so their home country could issue them with the proper papers before returning to Thailand.
Reform of all sectors needed
Secondly, after a leniency period of between two and three months, a crackdown on illegal workers and their employers would be implemented.
Thirdly, within one to two years there must be reform of all sectors that employ foreign labourers.
Quick research would determine which fields have a labour shortage so foreign workers can fill the holes, while the 39 professions reserved for Thais should also be reviewed and updated.
Yongyuth said employment of foreign workers should be done according to the 2008 Foreign Labour Act and there should be clear rules and regulations on work terms or the implementation of special economic zones.
The 22 coastal provinces with aquatic animal farms and fishery activities should also be regulated, because fishery businesses have caused Thailand problems with other countries, particularly in regard to forced labour and human trafficking.
Yongyuth proposed that the sector be held as a special project, separate from general foreign employment so that problems could be solved speedily, concretely and integrally.
Another special project should involve workers at rubber, palm and fruit plantations, he said, urging the people in the agriculture sector to allow the hiring of whole families to motivate workers to stay longer.
Fourthly, the Department of Employment’s Office of Foreign Workers Administration should be made more efficient and its status elevated to be equal with a department with 10 times more officials.
Lastly, there should be sufficient budget to manage this – Bt300 million annually – and the money could partially come from worker registrations, renewal fees and the repatriation fund.
“Solving the labour shortage should not be limited to only workers from Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos.
There are workers from other countries that are ready to work here – such as Vietnam and Bangladesh – if there were distinct employers with legal and correct procedures in place,” Yongyuth said.
First published: ฺThe Nation, June 29, 2014