BANGKOK — The junta-appointed legislature approved without amendment Thursday the emergency decree that recently prompted an exodus of migrant workers.
Members voted 177-0 with 11 abstentions to adopt the controversial Royal Decree on managing foreign labor into law, despite complaints from both public and private sectors that its punishments are unreasonably harsh and driving the economy’s main workforce out of the country.
Under the new law, foreign workers without work permits face up to five years in prison and employers can also be fined up to 800,000 baht – for each noncompliant worker. More than 60,000 workers have returned to Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos since June 23, when it was implemented on an emergency basis.
Myanmar’s Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security said more than 34,000 Burmese workers have returned home after a crackdown commenced by law enforcement.
Migrant workers networks have complained the exodus was fueled by the arrests and extortion of workers nationwide as soon as the law was passed.
The situation prompted Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to use his self-granted absolute power Tuesday to delay its implementation to next year.
But the Employers’ Confederation of Thai Trade and Industry said it was not a real solution and would only delay the problem if the process to legally register the workforce remains difficult, pricey and corrupted.
Migrant workers networks said government officers often unofficially encouraged migrant workers and employers to pay to agency. That more expensive method is easier and takes shorter time.
“It was a bad situation for us when the 300 baht minimum wage policy was approved, but this is worse,” said the confederation’s Nauvarat Songswaddichai.
“For that policy, if we couldn’t afford to stay, we just gradually shut down our businesses. This time, we had to cease production the next day the law went into effect because our employees were gone,” said Nauvarat, who owns several businesses.
She said other members of the alliance were facing the same problem.
Kasikorn Research Center, an economics research group backed by Kasikornbank, predicted the new law will cause a loss of 12 billion baht from the economy, dragging total GDP down 0.03 percent.
The most affected industries are agriculture, commercial fishing, hotels, restaurants, merchandising and construction. Those industries account for 65 percent of Thailand’s migrant workforce.
Nauvarat slammed the law for neither improving Thailand’s stature on the international stage nor alleviating the problem.
“If the registration process is still exclusively tied to few licensed agencies, it will remain difficult and pricey,” she said.
Though some lawmakers raised concerns during Thursday’s review that the new law’s harsh penalties would create difficulties for many industries that rely on migrant workers, it sailed through without challenge.
That means the law, both in draft and final form, never went through public hearings.
Thailand has 2.7 million workers from three neighboring countries; Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos. Only about 1.2 million of them are legally permitted to work. Most are in construction, services and agriculture, according to Foreign Workers Administration Office.
Acknowledging the damage, the government yesterday issued another notification under the authority of the Ministry of Labour to allow undocumented workers to apply for their recruitment during the 15-day period from July 24 to Aug. 7.
The special scheme was yet to proved whether it would be enough for the amount of illegal workers in the country.