Thai­land back­tracks on la­bor law as migrant work­ers flee

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Thai­land’s mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment said it will de­lay en­forc­ing new la­bor reg­u­la­tions af­ter thou­sands of migrant work­ers fled home to neigh­bor­ing coun­tries this week fear­ing ar­rest and heavy fines un­der the new decree. The scramble is the lat­est chaos trig­gered by Thai­land’s ef­forts to reg­u­late the mil­lions of for­eign work­ers who prop up its econ­omy with jobs in fac­to­ries, fish­ing boats and other low­paid work.

The junta has trum­peted a flurry of cam­paigns aimed at reg­is­ter­ing migrant work­ers and crack­ing down on il­le­gal smug­gling routes, but the ef­forts are of­ten ad-hoc and short-lived. As a re­sult, much of the migrant work force re­mains un­doc­u­mented and vul­ner­a­ble to ex­ploita­tion by traf­fick­ers and un­scrupu­lous em­ploy­ers. On Fri­day the junta said it would sus­pend parts of a new for­eign la­bor law, which came into ef­fect on June 23, for 120 days af­ter the reg­u­la­tions sparked a panic among migrant work­ers and their em­ploy­ers.

“Dur­ing this window there will be no ar­rests or crack­down on il­le­gal work­ers ex­cept for those who vi­o­late hu­man traf­fick­ing laws,” Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Wis­sanu Krea-ngam told re­porters. The re­prieve comes af­ter thou­sands of la­bor­ers fled home to neigh­bor­ing Myan­mar and Cam­bo­dia fear­ing ar­rest and fines of up to $3,000 un­der the law which pun­ishes migrant work­ers lack­ing valid work per­mits. Em­ploy­ers can also be fined up to 800,000 baht ($24,000) for each un­doc­u­mented worker they hire.

In Sa­mut Sakhon, a seafood in­dus­try hub known as “Lit­tle Burma” for its con­cen­tra­tion of Myan­mar migrant work­ers, around 500 la­bor­ers have been re­turn­ing home daily dur­ing the past week, said Suthasi­nee Kaewleklai from the Migrant Worker Rights Net­work (MWRN). “These work­ers don’t have any doc­u­ments and have to re­turn to Myan­mar as they fear need­ing to pay a heavy fine,” she said. The ad­vo­cacy group also warned that traf­fick­ers fre­quently profit from such mass move­ments of mi­grants, with smug­glers and border agents ex­act­ing fees from un­doc­u­mented work­ers look­ing for a safe pas­sage home. A po­lice chief in Myan­mar’s Karen state said around 6,000 migrant work­ers had re­turned home from Thai­land since Thurs­day.

Mean­while on the Cam­bo­dian border, the num­ber of mi­grants stream­ing home has been in­creas­ing daily since the new law came to into ef­fect, said Thai im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cer Ben­japol Rob­sawad. Since Wed­nes­day nearly 2,000 work­ers have crossed back to Cam­bo­dia through the Poipet check­point, he said. In 2014 some 250,000 Cam­bo­di­ans fled Thai­land af­ter fears that the newly-in­stalled junta gov­ern­ment would ar­rest and de­port un­doc­u­mented work­ers. They slowly trick­led back in the fol­low­ing weeks. —AFP

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