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Thailand suspends new labor regulations for 180 days amid migrant worker exodus

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Scrambling to placate the tempest caused by new migrant labor regulations, Thailand has announced several concessions, including a 180-day grace period before the stipulations can start to take effect.

Myanmar migrant workers return from Thailand (photo: internet)
Thousands of migrant workers began streaming out the country amid panic induced by a June 20 announcement that included a slate of new and expensive rules.

After more than 60,000 Myanmar workers exited the country for fear of an upcoming crackdown, employers demanded the government do something to intervene. Around 1,000 people, including Thai government officials, entrepreneurs, company owners, employment agencies, labor right activists, and non-governmental organizations attended a seminar at the Thai Ministry of Labor office on July 5.

“I attended the Thai government’s meeting [on June 5]. They agreed to relax some points. For example, workers no longer need a recommendation from their previous employers if they want to change their workplace and employer’s name,” said Min Kyaw Thiha, owner of Siam Hongsar & AEC Co. Ltd, which employs Myanmar workers.

“Undocumented workers can apply for the required documents in Thailand without having to first go back to Myanmar,” he added. “[The law] has been postponed for six months to allow time for the workers to obtain these documents.”

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said the Thai government will not abolish or amend the new labor regulations, but told the Bangkok Post that they will not be enforced until the grace period ends in December.

In a press conference held in Nay Pyi Daw on July 5, Myanmar’s Minister of Labor, Immigration, and Population U Thein Swe said certificate of identify (CI) will be issued to Myanmar migrant workers whose temporary passports have expired.

“For workers who live far from the issuing centers and are unable to go there, we will arrange mobile teams to go to their residential areas at convenient time for them,” he said. “Some of the workers holding expired temporary passports in Thailand are worried. They don’t need to worry. We are working as quickly as possible to change their [expired documents to] CI cards so that they can get official recognition and live safely.”

Although the minister said 34,069 workers have returned to Myanmar up to the morning of July 5, labor activists have put the count at upwards of 70,000 workers, about half of whom crossed back through the Mae Sot-Myawaddy border.

The new regulations impose a series of fines for workers’ without the correct paperwork, and, according to labor activists, make it more difficult for the workers to change employers.

According to the new regulations, workers who cannot show their permit during an inspection can be fined 10,000 baht. If the employer or job listed on the work permit is incorrect, the workers can be fined 100,000 baht, while employers who hire unregistered workers or those with a permit from another employer can face a fine between 400,000 and 800,000 baht.

“This new law will not bring any benefit to Thai employers and Mon and Bamar workers. The workers will only lose all their money to brokers and agents while they apply for documents from the respective government departments,” said Nai Sunthorn Sripanngern, a Mon-Thai citizen.

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