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'Exodus' hits Thai agriculture, construction sectors

Publication Date : 19-06-2014


Of the more than 100,000 Cambodian workers who fled Thailand, 60 to 70 per cent were working in the construction and agricultural sectors


Thailand's agriculture and construction sectors are seen experiencing a sudden shortage of labour, as hundreds of thousands of Cambodian workers fled Thailand over the past week on rumors that the Thai junta was planning to crack down on them.

Of the more than 100,000 Cambodian workers who fled Thailand, 60 to 70 per cent were working in the construction and agricultural sectors in the East, Thai Permanent Secretary for Labour Jeerasak Sukhonthachart said yesterday.

The Labour Ministry said it would launch a project to systematically move documented workers to the areas abandoned by the departed Cambodians.

The Thai-Cambodian Border Trade and Tourism Association of Chanthaburi province, however, predicted that the Cambodian workers would return to Thailand within a few weeks because Thai wages were at least three times higher than wages in Cambodia.

Speaking to 1,500 employers and migrant workers in Chon Buri's Sri Racha district yesterday, Jeerasak said Rayong had seen 30,000 documented Cambodian workers and possibly another 30,000 undocumented ones departing Thailand.

Jeerasak stressed that the National Council for Peace and Order's (NCPO) crackdown was aimed not at individual workers but at human trafficking, in general, to punish "procuring persons", the employers and officials who reaped benefits from the practice.

Under a project to tackle the suddden labour shortage, employers could inform their provincial employment office about the number of migrant workers they need, the work details, wages and welfare.

The office would then contact other employment offices that may have more than enough migrant workers who could be invited to work in the affected areas, he added.

Business operators also urged the waiving of the fee charged on reloating migrant workers.

Chon Buri employment official Pichit Nilthongkham said the province's 90,000 documented workers included some 40,000 Cambodians.

The exodus of workers--although mostly undocumented Cambodians - affected all sectors especially agriculture and fisheries, followed by construction and tourism and hospitality.

Pichit said Thai authorities had asked employers to keep records of migrant workers for easier checking.

The chairman of Sri Racha district's club of migrant workers, Min Lin Sao, said 200 out of the club's 300 members had fled Thailand. He said he would relay the official message to club members that the Army and the police would not mistreat the workers.

Rayong Chamber of Commerce chair Anuchida Chinsiraprapha said the Cambodian workers' exodus had affected businesses on the tourist island of Koh Samet.

Despite attempts by Thai authorities to allay foreign workers' concerns, most remained worried and their departures had affected small- and medium-sized enterprises, she said.

All 500 Cambodian workers on Koh Samet had left local shops, restaurants and hotels.

She said the shortage was severe in the agricultural sector as there were no workers to harvest fruit or tap latex. She said the problem would likely expand to fisheries and the para wood (natural rubber tree) industries.

Fruit orchard owners in Rayong's Muang district, meanwhile, claimed they had to hire Thai workers at higher wage rates than the rate paid to Cambodians. Orchard-owner Somkuan Prangsri said, "Thai workers are also not as skilled in fruit-picking as the migrant workers we used to hire, so we get low-quality produce bringing down the price of fruit."

However, some Cambodian workers are reportedly returning to Pong Nam Ron and Soi Dao districts in Chanthaburi province, as they need wages to support their families.

Some Cambodians told their Thai employers they would be back when they have completed their documents.

Former energy minister Pichai Naripthaphan commented that the program involving Thailand's 5-6 million migrant workers, documented or otherwise, should be carefully implemented as an exodus could severely affect the country's economy.



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