Pattaya’s labour problems can only be solved by Myanmar recruitment

Workers from Myanmar form the backbone of Thailand’s much-needed immigrant labour force.

Thailand’s Chamber of Commerce has called for 500,000 extra migrant workers to arrive in the next few months. They are needed nationally to supplement the diminishing Thai workforce in fishing, agriculture, manufacturing and hospitality. The Chamber points out that this is not a new trend, but has been made more urgent because of demographic changes in rapidly ageing Thailand and the disruption created by coronavirus.

Pattaya’s particular problem is recruiting sufficient foreign labour for construction sites, particularly the erection of condominium units which has continued apace in spite of the economic downturn. The Foreign Worker Employment Agency (FWEA), located next to the Jomtien immigration bureau, says that the total of lawful foreign workers in Chonburi province (which includes Pattaya) was 650,000 in 2019, but had shrunk to half that number by mid-2022.

Thailand has formal memoranda of understandings with Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos to guarantee some human rights and inclusion in the national health insurance scheme in return for registration. The Thai authorities have also recently extended their links informally with Vietnam. However the Ministry of Labour points out that almost 80 percent of migrant workers in Thailand are from Myanmar which must remain the center of marketing campaigns owing to its size and geographical proximity.

Provincial FWEA director Jessataporn Sriboo said recruitment should become easier now that quarantine requirements have been removed and the land borders with troubled Myanmar had been reopened to commercial traffic and personnel. But Thailand faced competition for manual workers from neighboring China in particular, which shares a land border with Myanmar, and even Japan whose demographic problems are worse than Thailand’s.

The Thai government has now extended work visas until early 2025 and even included illegal immigrants in the edict. Undocumented workers remain a serious problem fuelled by the desire to avoid visa and registration fees, but hitherto they have risked deportation if discovered. There is also discussion of amending the 1975 Labour Relations Act which forbids foreigners from joining a union on the grounds of national security, a longstanding complaint by civil rights campaigners.

According to City Hall, there are at least ongoing 40 projects in Pattaya and adjoining areas which require a foreign labour input. These include public and private sector building enterprises, road repairs and reclamation developments as well as jobs in factories, hotels and food. There is also a totally separate category of expats, many from Europe, who are found mostly in teaching and senior management and come under different work permit rules and tax regulations from neighboring economic migrants.