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Worker sign-up in Thailand moves at snail's pace

Worker sign-up in Thailand moves at snail's pace

In recent months, a registration program for Cambodians working illegally in Thailand

has been established by Thai and Cambodian officials.

The plan was to be completed within four to six months, but since the program's inception

in March of this year, only 77 of the 183,000 Cambodians working illegally in Thailand

have registered. The slow pace of registration has caused Thai and Cambodian authorities

to rethink their strategy.

In mid-April, registration was halted temporarily as the working group assigned to

implement the program met with their Thai partners to discuss a better solution for

implementing worker registration.

Sok San, secretary of state at the Ministry of Labor, said that the registration

process has been slow because the parties have yet to decide on an efficient method

of implementation.

Cambodian laborers work in all provinces across Thailand, making it difficult to

cover the large geographical area, San said. So far, the working group has tried

to inform Cambodian laborers of the registration program by tracking each employer

down individually. Talks of establishing a mobile registration unit that will visit

each province are ongoing.

Songchai Chaipatiyut, first secretary at the Thai embassy, attributes the slow pace

of registration to difficulties confirming the nationalities of illegal workers in

Thailand.

"It takes time to agree and verify the nationalities of the workers in Thailand.

It's a normal pace for the process. I don't think that we delay it. A person is a

national and entitled to be protected by their country. It is a sensitive issue,

both persons need to be careful about recognition," Chaipatiyut said.

Most Cambodian laborers in Thailand work on farms, fishing boats and in factories

and are often underpaid and overworked. The registration program will enable authorities

to monitor and regulate the working environment of Cambodian laborers.

Minimum wage in Thailand is 5,000 baht per month, or US$125. On average, Cambodian

laborers in Thailand earn 4,000 baht per month or US$100, said Seng Sakda, Director

of Employment and Manpower Department at the Ministry of Labor.

"There was no quota or mechanism [in the past] to control or regulate the situation,

so for people who go to work in Thailand, sometimes bad experiences occur for workers.

If we legalize them, then, of course, they have the same right to minimum wage,"

said Chaipatiyut.

"The number of Cambodian laborers working in Thailand is increasing, but those

are illegal and it's difficult for us to protect them. When workers register they

will have the right to work legally and will be protected under the labor laws of

Thailand," San said.

Attempting to satisfy Thai labor demands, the Thai government is also trying to attract

laborers from other neighboring countries, Chaipatiyut said, "That is the reason

for the efforts to regulate".

During a visit last month to Bangkok, Prime Minister Hun Sen asked the Thai government

to allow more Cambodians laborers to work in Thailand, said Sakda.

Once Cambodian laborers have registered, Thailand will then decide how many more

Cambodian workers they will need in their country, San said.

Registered workers will be provided with a certificate of identity, as well as a

visa, a health inspection card, health insurance, and a work permit, said Sakda.

Poipet commune chief, Hay Namheng, said at least 10,000 Cambodian laborers enter

Thailand everyday using border passes. Entering Thailand in the morning and returning

in the evening, these people legally work and set up small businesses at border crossings.

An estimated 500 workers enter Thailand illegally everyday, using corridor gates,

said Namheng, "About 200 Cambodian laborers who cross the border illegally are

sent back through Poipet border gate everyday. These people are hurt or beaten by

Thai soldiers."

Worker registration programs have been successful in other Asian countries such as

Korea, which employs 2,000 registered Cambodian workers, said San. Ten companies

currently employ registered workers in Korea, Malaysia, and Thailand.

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