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March 1996, Volume 3, Number 3

Thailand Proposes Guest Workers

Thailand's interior ministry has proposed a plan to permit employers in 35 of the country's 76 provinces to import foreign workers. The provinces in which foreign workers would be allowed include Bangkok, the border regions, and coastal provinces.

If approved by the labor ministry and the cabinet, employers would register their foreign workers by paying a Baht 5,000 ($200) deposit per worker, and a Baht 1,000 per worker fee. Foreign workers would have to be paid the Thai minimum wage. There are an estimated 500,000 to 700,000 mostly illegal foreign workers in Thailand.

A pilot program involving deposits and fees failed because many foreign workers disappeared, so their employers forfeited their deposits.

Some in the government proposed to allow illegal immigrants already in the country to register for work with the Employment Division, but the Thai employment department director countered that illegal foreign workers should be allowed to work only in provinces with acute labor shortages.

Under the recommended plan, illegal immigrants would report to the immigration police, and then be registered by the labor ministry prior to legal employment. Work permits would be valid for two years, and could be extended.

Employers must register each foreign worker with the employment department, and pay a 5,000 baht guarantee. Employers caught with illegal workers could face up to three years in jail or a fine of not exceeding 60,000 baht or both. Each employer will be allowed to have a maximum half of his work force consist of registered foreign workers.

The Thai government estimates that there at least 330,000 Burmese, 100,000 Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi, 100,000 Chinese, and more than 10,000 Khmer or Laotian workers in the country. Brokers are paid between 3,000 to 5,000 baht for each migrant they bring to factories in Bangkok.

Several Thai labor councils have objected to the foreign workers plan because it could mean fewer job opportunities for native workers. One member of Parliament suggested the foreign workers be restricted to industries that Thais avoid, such as fisheries and pig and chicken farms.

The Labour and Social Welfare Ministry has agreed to expand from nine to 22 the provinces who will be allowed to recruit foreign workers for fishing. Before trawler owners may legally hire foreign workers, the Fisheries Department must amend the Fishing Rights Act.

Ted Bardacke, "Thailand eases labour migration," Financial Times, February 14, 1996. "Thailand eases labor migration," Financial Times, February 14, 1996; "Fishing Operators Warned over Hiring of Immigrants," Bangkok Post, January 21, 1996. "Immigrant Employment 'Should be limited to some areas,'" Bangkok Post, January 9, 1996. "Thai labor congresses oppose imports of foreign labor, Xinhua News Agency, January 9, 1996. "Amnesty Restriction on Illegal Immigrants Plan, Bangkok Post, January 5, 1996.