Cambodian worker exodus to hit Thai businesses

2014-06-17 16:40
People walk past Thai army soldiers sitting in a jeep mounted with a machine gun as they secure a main intersection in Bangkok. (Christophe Archambault, AFP)

People walk past Thai army soldiers sitting in a jeep mounted with a machine gun as they secure a main intersection in Bangkok. (Christophe Archambault, AFP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Bangkok - Thai officials said on Tuesday that the mass departure of Cambodian labourers would dent the economy as thousands more migrant workers, fearing reprisals from the new military government, poured across the border.

Around 170 000 Cambodian workers have headed home in the past week, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), although the exodus is now slowing. Many left after hearing rumours that Thailand's junta was bent on cracking down on illegal migrants.

The generals who seized power on 22 May to end six months of political turmoil have promised no action against those working legally in Thailand. But junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha pledged last week to "tighten" laws applied to foreign labourers.

"I admit there must be some impact on business, but I don't know to what extent," Sihasak Phuanketkeow, the foreign ministry's permanent secretary, told reporters after assuring Cambodia's ambassador that the military planned no crackdown.

Fear of soldiers

The junta blames the departures on "unfounded rumours" of imminent action against illegal workers. Tanit Numnoi, a senior Ministry of Labour official, said workers could return once their papers were in order.

But Cambodians heading down the potholed roads to the border in packed buses and trucks were having none of it.

Kiew Thi, aged 38, said it had taken him hours to reach the checkpoint.

"I'm going back because I'm afraid soldiers are going to come and get us," Kiew Thi said. Like others, he had been drawn to a job in the Thai fishing industry by monthly wages of $250, considerably more than he could earn at home.

The Thai economy, Southeast Asia's second-largest, is heavily dependent on migrant workers, mostly from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia. Migrants cross porous borders to perform jobs most Thais are unwilling to do in labour-intensive sectors.

"This will definitely impact the construction industry, particularly along the eastern seaboard of Thailand, a key economic region. It will also affect agriculture as some fruit orchards rely on Cambodian workers," Vallop Vitanakorn, Vice- Chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries, told Reuters.

"But I believe once they have their work documents in order most of them will return, perhaps within a month or two."

Millions of workers

The labour ministry says there are more than 2 million legally registered foreign workers in Thailand. More than half come from neighbouring Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

But Burmese labourers have not joined in the rush to the border and rights groups told Reuters they were trying to allay any fears of impending deportation.

A national verification programme requires migrants to secure passports at home in order to apply for, or renew, Thai work permits. Thai officials had previously turned a blind eye to many provisions of employment laws.

Military authorities now propose policies with nationalist overtones, including the creation of economic zones for migrant workers in border areas in order to free up more jobs for Thais.

Sihasak, the foreign affairs ministry's top official, said there could be a positive spin-off from the past week's departures.

"This will be a good thing for the country because we can put in order the workforce and make it legal," he said. "We don't want foreign workers to be exploited by their employers."

The flow of migrants heading home had eased somewhat over the past 24 hours, according to Brett Dickson, IOM's team leader in the Cambodian border town of Poi Pet.

"There are a lot of Cambodian military trucks picking people up and people are getting out of here within a couple of hours," he said. "The next challenge is helping those who want to return to Thailand in the next few months get proper work documents in order."

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
Read more on:    cambodia  |  thailand publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


Rugby World Cup 2015

All the action from the 2015 RWC, including live coverage of all 48 matches, breaking news, fixtures, results, logs - and much more!


Rugby World Cup 2015

Wallabies 'defend like dogs'
Loubscher expecting 'direct' Wales
Carter desperate to reach RWC final
Boks want to continue upward curve
Traffic Alerts

You may find it hard to focus on the mundane routines as the greener pastures seem so tempting. It is a good time to expand more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.