Thailand’s junta yesterday delayed parts of a new labour law aimed at regulating the foreign workforce there after a decree sparked panic and prompted thousands of Cambodian workers to flee the country.
The military government, which has ruled since the 2014 coup, has invoked Article 44 – a security order that gives it power to push through policy – to delay the law that imposes heavy fines on employers and employees who do not have work permits, a senior official said.
The original decree was issued in part to tackle human trafficking concerns raised by the international community, Thai Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said.
“The government had to issue this law because we are being watched by the foreign community in terms of human trafficking. If we don’t issue this law they will not buy our goods. So we have to do it,” Mr Wissanu said.
The US State Department last month left Thailand on a Tier 2 Watchlist, just above the lowest ranking of Tier 3, in its annual Trafficking in Persons Report because it did not do enough to tackle human smuggling and trafficking. Cambodia was given the same ranking.
Mr Wissanu said the government would delay implementation of four sections of the law for six months.
He did not elaborate but the Thai Labour Ministry said it would suspend parts of the law until January in order to give both workers and their employers more time to get their work permits.
More than 4,200 Cambodian migrants were sent home from Thailand through the Poipet International Border Checkpoint between Wednesday last week and Monday.
Sem Makara, deputy chief of the immigration police station in Poipet, said far fewer workers returned home yesterday, with just 350 being officially deported.
“Since Thai authorities postponed the implementation of the foreign labour management law, the number of undocumented Cambodian migrant workers coming home has fallen and will continue to,” he said.
Migrants are predominately employed in low-skilled jobs in Thailand’s multi-billion dollar fishing sector, in agriculture, construction, manufacturing and as domestic workers.
Businesses had complained that the new regulations have caused a shortage of workers in the construction and fishing sectors.
Property development and construction, which have had a stellar performance in an otherwise sluggish Thai economy, have felt the brunt of the departures.
Workers who returned to Cambodia over the past week alleged they had to pay bribes up to three times on their way out of Thailand.
Some claimed they had to pay several hundred baht each to the police as transport charges, while others were extorted for even more by Thai officers.
The Cambodian embassy in Bangkok called on illegal workers in Thailand to remain calm as officials attempt to negotiate a deal to allow migrants to stay in their jobs.
Cambodian ambassador to Thailand Long Visalo said: “The embassy and the Cambodian Ministry of Labour are working to find a solution with the Thai government.”