Army to manage labour shortfall

Business operators facing labour shortages following the mass exodus of Cambodian workers have been urged to report their manpower needs to the Labour Ministry so it can help fill the shortfall.

The ministry's assistance was offered to 1,500 business operators in the eastern provinces who were invited to meet permanent secretary for labour Jirasak Sukonthachart at Ao Udom Community Centre in Si Racha district of Chon Buri Wednesday to discuss their labour needs.

More than half of the alien workforce in the eastern region is from Cambodia.

Efforts will be made to relocate workers from other areas to fill the gaps so companies can continue operating, Mr Jirasak said.

He asked operators to submit company names and the numbers of workers they need to the ministry, which will then seek to bring in replacement workers.

He said the exodus of Cambodian workers, mostly undocumented, has resulted in major labour shortages in the farming, fishery, service and industrial sectors.

Mr Jirasak said the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) is wary of the human trafficking issue since Thailand has been placed on the United States' Tier 2 Watchlist for four consecutive years.

The Tier 2 Watchlist contains countries where governments do not fully comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s minimum standards but are making efforts to improve.

Trade with the US would be hindered if Thailand is downgraded to Tier 3, he said.

Pravit Khiengpol, director-general of the Department of Employment, said the exodus of more than 100,000 Cambodian workers shows how much businesses have relied on large numbers of undocumented workers.

The NCPO wants all the workers to be regulated to protect their rights, he said.

Efforts will be made to regulate the workers within a month, he said. One-stop service centres will be set up for the documentation process and to help employers wishing to hire migrant labourers.

The measure will be tabled to the Policy Committee on Alien Workers.

The country now has an estimated 2.3 million documented migrant workers. They will be helped to maintain their legal status so they can obtain labour rights and other benefits under Thai law.

Authorities are easing legal restrictions to allow workers who overstayed their visas to continue working while efforts are made to speed up the nationality verification process for them, he said.

Col Opas Uttaranakon, deputy chief of 14th Military Circle in charge of the eastern region, said he never ordered the crackdown on the undocumented workers.

Jantana, a 30-year-old documented Cambodian cassava farm worker, said she felt safer after listening to assurances provided by authorities.

Chon Buri Employment Office chief Pichit Nilthongkham said the Cambodian labourer exodus has damaged all business sectors, particularly agriculture and fisheries, followed by construction, tourism and service industries. Most of the fleeing workers are undocumented, he said.

The office has worked with the 14th Military Circle to speak with businesses and alien workers to improve understanding among migrant workers, he said.

The military has also held talks with documented Cambodian workers to urge them to inform their compatriots that it had no policy to crack down on undocumented workers.

Rayong's Chamber of Commerce chairwoman Anuchida Chinsiraprapha conceded most of the alien workers still fear crackdowns despite efforts being made by agencies to calm them.

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