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Thailand grants new delay for unregistered migrant workers

Thailand’s cabinet agreed to grant an additional three-month grace period to illegal migrant workers to stay in the kingdom so that they could complete their registration process. For Thailand’s estimated 2.5 million migrant workers, 2013 brings new bureaucratic hurdles, but a promise of a higher minimum wage as well.

Olivier Languepin

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contruction workers Bangkok

Thailand’s cabinet agreed to grant an additional three-month grace period to illegal migrant workers to stay in the kingdom so that they could complete their registration process. For Thailand’s estimated 2.5 million migrant workers, 2013 brings new bureaucratic hurdles, but a promise of a higher minimum wage as well.

Government spokesman Tossaporn Serirak said the cabinet agreed with the proposal of the committee on migrant worker management to allow illegal migrants from Myanmar, the Lao PDR and Cambodia who have not yet registered legally, as well as their children aged below 15 years old, to stay in the kingdom for three more months.The cabinets decision, according to the spokesman, will allow illegal migrant workers to proceed with their requests for temporary passports or certificate of identity from their country of origin.

Thai contruction workers Chitlom

Some 5.5 million people working in factories, trade and services sectors are entitled to receive the government’s minimum wage of Bt300/day, according to the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare.

More than one million workers from Myanmar are believed to have used the program but on December 14 the Thai government ordered that all registration centres close, warning that any remaining undocumented workers return to their home countries or face jail or deportation. So far there have been no reports of crackdowns or mass arrests, but the decision to close the centres has been perceived as a clear threat.

Under the three-month period, Mr Tossaporn said, they are permitted to enter Thailand legally and can still work with the same employers, according to report by Thai News agency MCOT News.

There are some 2.5 million migrant workers in Thailand

About three quarters are from Myanmar, also known as Burma. Most are manual laborers — doing construction and agriculture around Chiang Mai,  and fishing and factories elsewhere.

Less than half of them met the deadline that would make them eligible for the new minimum wage, national health benefits and grant access to schools. For the 1.5 million workers who didn’t meet the deadline, there’s confusion.

Thailand’s work force is comprised of a large number of migrant workers, some of whom are in the country illegally.

But for those who can prove they’re in the country legally, they have the right to claim the 300 baht minimum wage, as well as access to government benefits.

Some Thai businesses have reported possible labour shortage looms with Myanmar opening its economy. The construction, fishery and food industries will be the hardest hit as they rely heavily on migrant workers from Myanmar. Visit Limprana, president of the food-processing industry club at the Federation of Thai Industries, said to the Bangkok Post that the sector is short 20,000 to 30,000 workers, although hundreds of thousands of Myanmar labourers are already employed.

On Jan. 1, the country’s minimum wage was raised to 300 baht — or about $10 per day. Migrant workers from neighboring countries like Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos make up as much as 10 percent of Thailand’s workforce. They should be eligible for the pay bump, if they can prove they’re in the country legally.  It’s been reported that the government will extend the deadline, but at the same time the Thai government has threatened crackdowns and deportations.

Thailand’s policy is evolving as the whole region prepares for 2015’s economic integration under ASEAN — a European Union-style collaboration between 10 southeast Asian countries. Integration will make moving between countries easier for some workers, although mostly in highly-skilled jobs.

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