A bilateral registration program aimed at ensuring equal rights for the roughly 183,000
Cambodians working illegally in Thailand has resumed after a controversial nine-month
Now, for a 500 baht ($12.50) fee workers will be able to register to work legally
in Thailand for two years, and under full protection of Thai labor laws.
The registration program, which was slated to begin in March 2005, has been stymied
by "technical problems," a Ministry of Labor official said. So far only
77 illegal Cambodian workers have been registered.
Seng Sakda, general director at the Ministry of Labor, said his organization began
processing registrations on November 14 after receiving approval from the Thai Labor
Ministry on October 31. He said the program may take more than six months to complete.
The Cambodian government had arranged for a company to process the registrations
on November 1, but the arrangement was delayed by a Thai partner who wanted to announce
the companies and arrange the accommodation, Sakda said.
He explained that in the past Cambodians had either entered Thailand covertly or
were taken there by illegitimate labor bosses. They then worked in the country illegally
and without recognition from Thai authorities.
"Illegal workers live in fear of arrest by Thai authorities and get underpaid
by their employers," Sakda said.
Sok San, secretary of state at the Ministry of Labor, said that on October 31 the
Cambodian working group went to Bangkok to discuss resuming the registration of Cambodian
laborers in Thailand.
San said that previously there had been many problems for Cambodians who chose to
work in Thailand illegally. Most importantly, they were not recognized as citizens
by their employers and were not allowed legal representation when they had disputes.
Once Cambodian workers are registered in the new program, they will be working legally,
protected by Thai labor laws and ensured proper working conditions.
"It is a great benefit for our workers to have equal rights like Thai workers
and have the right to work in Thailand for two years," San said.
San said most Cambodian laborers work on farms, fishing boats and factories. They
are often underpaid and overworked. Illegal Cambodian labor forces have been documented
in all Thai provinces.
He said Thai workers received a minimum wage of about 7,000 baht ($170) a month,
but some Cambodian laborers got only 4,000 baht ($97) and most were cheated by their
Songchai Chaipatiyut, First Secretary at the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh, said the
registration program was meant to be completed by the end of 2005. But, he added,
the process would take time.
"We try to legalize illegal workers in Thailand - who they are or what their
nationalities are - we verify them and they will have the same rights and the protection
as Thai workers," Chaipatiyut said.
He said the Thai government was using the same registration process with Myanmar
and Lao nationals to verify their nationalities and establish what they called a
"temporary passport" for workers. According to Chaipatiyut, the negotiations
between Thailand and Myanmar, which has the most illegal workers in Thailand, is
far behind the negotiations with Cambodia and Laos.
Pich Saran, Poipet immigration police chief, said about 4,000 to 5,000 Cambodians
cross the Poipet border each day. They enter Thailand in the morning and return in
the evening. Some work as laborers and others operate shops in Thai markets.
Saran said hundreds of people slip into Thailand to work illegally, but when they
are caught they are arrested by Thai soldiers. After a period of detention they are
usually returned to Cambodia.
A daily return worker and Poipet resident, Eath Savay, 20, works in a shoe factory
two kilometers inside the Thai border. He said that although he could find a job
in Cambodia, it was easier to find work in Thailand.
"I like my boss in Thailand," he said.
* (Additional reporting by Markus Bernsen)