Thailand has delayed the enforcement of the Management of Foreign Workers Act for four months in order for foreign workers to come into compliance, according to the Labour Department.
The move came yesterday after negotiations between U Maung Maung Kyaw, the Director-General of the Labour Department, and officials of Thailand at a meeting in Yangon yesterday.
More than 4,000 Myanmar migrant workers returned yesterday and about 2,500 workers on Wednesday after Thailand’s labour act went into effect.
Thousands of undocumented migrant workers from Myanmar and Cambodia fled from Thailand, prompting officials from Myanmar to engage in negotiations with its neighbour.
Workers from Myanmar and Cambodia, make up the backbone of Thailand’s manual labour force. Many industries, including a multi-billion dollar seafood sector, are heavily reliant on foreign workers.
Undocumented migrants are sometimes subject to exploitation by employers and cases of forced labour have been found by the media and Thailand’s foreign trade partners.
Under the decree that officially went into effect on 23 June, an employer who hires an undocumented foreign workers faces a fine of up to 800,000 baht (Ks31.92 million).
The penalty has some businesses scrambling to fire undocumented workers or get them registered.
“Some employees are scared, because they employ illegal workers. Even though we aren’t rounding these workers up, they are still scared about the hefty fines,” Pornchai Kuntee, deputy commissioner of the Immigration Bureau, told Reuters.
“There will be an impact to the economy because foreign workers are an essential part of the workforce,” he said.
Thailand’s government says it has made legalising foreign workers a priority to help businesses.
“During the 120-day suspended period, Myanmar migrant workers should obtain the necessary documents to work in Thailand,” said U Aung Myo Thant, a labour attorney at the Myanmar embassy in Thailand.
In addition, the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission sent a letter yesterday to Thailand’s National Human Rights Commission requesting help for Myanmar migrant workers who are currently facing difficulties in obtaining documentation.
After the law came into effect, Thai police began making arrests of people with insufficient documents. Although Myanmar authorities would not comment on the new law, they have requested Thailand’s NHRC to protect the human rights of Myanmar migrant workers and their families who are currently in Thailand.
News media had earlier published pictures of workers crossing a border river from Thailand back into Myanmar, carrying bundles of belongings in plastic bags.
Reuters reported last month that, despite a Thai crackdown on human trafficking, people-smuggling across the Thai-Myanmar border is on the rise as people arrive in search of jobs.
This week, the United States kept Thailand on a trafficking watch list, saying it did not meet the minimum standards to end human trafficking.
Thailand defended its efforts to stop trafficking and urged U.S. officials to visit and see its efforts.