Although Thailand currently has 2.7 million registered guest workers from neighboring countries, some regions are still massively short of the numbers required. Jessataporn Bunnag, director of the Pattaya-based Foreign Workers Employment Agency, said there are over 250,000 registered guest workers in Chonburi province, but employers and contractors were asking for many more. The agency is responsible for the registration of foreign workers from Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos in accordance with the memoranda of understanding between Thailand and the governments of the respective countries.
“Chonburi province is very diverse,” said Mr Bunnag, “So there are vacancies in tourist-orientated Pattaya for hotel and restaurant staff as well as laborers on building sites. But the pressing need in Chonburi city is for factory workers in food processing and in port areas for fishermen. Not to mention the diverse needs of the hi-tech Eastern Economic Corridor.” He added that the situation could get worse in future because of the steep fall in Thailand’s birth rate over the past 30 years. He suggested that the Thai government should look at raising the minimum wage (currently around 360 baht in Chonburi province) and recruiting workers from Vietnam by establishing a further memorandum of understanding with the authorities there.
These concerns have also been voiced by the Thai Chamber of Commerce which highlighted labour shortages as a significant drag on economic recovery. The biggest problems are the thousands of workers from neighboring countries who do not register but enter Thailand as illegal workers. Although registered workers are guaranteed basic rights and free use of Thai public sector hospitals, illegal entrants face exploitation and the threat of deportation. Mr Bunnag commented, “The registration system is very bureaucratic and it can take several months for individuals to be processed. So it is tempting for illegal workers to short-circuit the regulations and offer themselves for work. But they have not entered through an authorized border crossing and have no Thai stamp in their passport, assuming they have one. That’s the issue.”
The Move Forward Party, which won the most seats in the recent Thai general election but is facing constitutional issues in trying to form a coalition government, has forcefully recognized the importance of migrant labour and promised to reform the bureaucracy. The current caretaker government of general Prayut Chan-o-cha has said that progress must await the incoming administration.