A large informal migration is underway, with many workers fleeing Thailand to neighbouring countries in response to a new law that is intended to crackdown on undocumented migrant workers. According to a Reuters report, Thai officials were reporting on Friday that over 2000 workers had fled to Myanmar and Cambodia last week. On 23 June Thai authorities began arresting illegal migrants, however on 1 July the Government exercised its authority to delay enforcing the new rules for 120 days following popular outcry from unions and business groups.
The Royal Ordinance Concerning the Management of Foreign Workers’ Employment significantly raises penalties both for undocumented migrant workers and their employers. Under the current rules undocumented migrants can be imprisoned for up to 48 days and then deported to their native countries, however new amendments carry a sentence of up to five years. “Migrant workers – including irregular migrant workers – are an essential part of the Thai economy, particular in the construction industry” said BWI General Secretary Ambet Yuson. “Attacking migrants in this way does nothing to improve the safety or livelihoods of national or foreign workers, it creates a culuture of fear and will only serve to make migrant workers more vulnerable.”
Yuson continued, noting that, “many businesses are opposed to this law since it will undermine their ability to find workers. Even Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha thinks the law is too restrictive, instructing the Labour Ministry to come up with urgent measures to soften the impact of the decree. Many workers’ lives have already been forever changed; if the Government does not act fast many more will have to put their lives on hold to escape the reaches on an unjust law.”
The BWI’s affiliate in Thailand, the Building and Wood Workers’ Industrial Council of Thailand (BWICT), have suggested that the Executive Decree is the Government’s attempt to shift Thailand out of the worst category of human trafficking in the US Government’s annual Trafficking In Persons report, however it has been done without concern for workers’ rights. On Wednesday 5 July they will enter negotiations with the Minister of Labour to try and ameliorate the law’s impact and protect human rights in future migration policy.
“This Thai Government is searching for a quick fix to a deep problem,” said BWICT official Boonsom Thawajit. “Undocumented migration is driven by the need for work, and the failure of the Thai Government to create adequate legitimate and safe channels by which workers can enter the country has created an exploitation industry. Now these exploited workers’ futures are being put even further in jeopardy with no clear justification. This law should be thrown out.”
Sok Kin, President of the Building and Wood Workers Trade Union Federation of Cambodia (BWTUC), wrote to the Thai Minister of Labour on 1 July and noted their concern. BWTUC work closely with Thai unions to organise the Cambodian migrant worker community, in particular in the construction and cement sector in Saraburi Province. In the letter, Kin explains how undocumented Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand are already being cheated and exploited by labour brokers, and that this law will further attack these workers.