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Migrant workers face Thai action

Labourers work at a construction site in downtown Bangkok in December last year. Reuters

THAILAND has ordered that an estimated two million migrant workers from Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos register their presence by a deadline set two months from now or face legal action or deportation.

Under the scheme, migrant workers will be required to pay 3,880 baht (US$128) for health insurance, a medical check-up and work permits that allow their children, if younger than 15, to stay in the country, The Bangkok Post reported on Friday.

The July 14 registration deadline, confirmed by Nilim Baruah, chief technical advisor on Asian regional migration at the International Labour Organisation, drew mixed reactions from civil society organisations in Cambodia yesterday.   

While some welcomed the move, others warned the mandatory registration process would either serve as a public-relations stunt with no meaningful impact or could even have unintended negative consequences.

Baruah said registration would regulate migrant worker employment and better ensure the protection of rights. However, he questioned why such a short period of time had been given to register.

“It would have been better if there had been a bit more time given for the information dissemination process,” he said. Mattieu Pellerin, a legal consultant with the rights group Licadho, said the 3,880 baht fee for registration could force legitimate workers underground or encourage debt bondage if employers agreed to cover the expense for them.

“If the process involves relatively large amounts of money for those official’s fees and bribes and corruption fees, I think the end result will be forcing people into unofficial migrant work and you will end up with the opposite effect [to that intended],” he said.

“If this legal work is not accessible to them, then that would be an incentive to entice them into illegal work and then the risk of being trafficked increases,” he said.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said yesterday that the move represented an acknowledgement from the Thai government labour officials that their past labour migration policies had failed, but would not curb either corruption or opaque recruitment methods.

“In July, there will be crackdown on migrant workers. That will last for a couple of weeks while the Thais try to send a signal that: ‘We’re serious this time and a bunch of unfortunate migrant workers will get arrested and deported’,” he said.  

“The government is a little schizophrenic on this. On one hand they want workers to fill positions in key parts of the economy but other parts of the government see migrant workers as a security threat,” he said.

“And then another part of the government, the police, just treat them like walking ATM machines – you just grab them and shake until the money comes out.”

Robertson said Cambodian migrants in Thailand mainly worked in palm and rubber plantations, large farms, animal rearing and construction – especially on island resorts such as Koh Chang.

Numerous efforts by the government since 2005 to register migrant workers through nationality verification programs, he said, had failed to give any reliable indication of the total number of migrant workers in Thailand. He described this latest registration push as a “pipe dream.”

International Organisation for Migration statistics show that through a series of registration programmes initiated by the Thai government in 2006, 550,003 foreigners from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar had obtained legal work permits by February 2011, including 103,826 Cambodians.

Thai government officials were unavailable for comment yesterday but permanent secretary for labour, Somkiat Chayasriwong, told The Bangkok Post on Friday the mandatory registrations were intended to encourage foreigners to work in Thailand while preventing abuse. 

Deputy General Director at Cambodia’s Ministry of Labour Hou Vuthy, said yesterday: “I cannot say whether the number of illegal workers who go to work in Thailand will reduce after they are made to register because our people will still seek work by hiding from the authorities.”



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