BANGKOK: Tens of thousands of migrant workers, most of them from Myanmar, have fled from Thailand in fear after new labour regulations adopted by the military government, immigration officials said on Monday.
Industry groups said the exodus was already hitting some companies, which depend on migrants from Thailand’s poorer neighbours for manual labour for everything from construction to the multi-billion dollar seafood industry.
“The private sector is in shock,” said Tanit Sorat, vice chairman of Employers’ Confederation of Thailand. “These are jobs that Thais will not do so if there is a labour shortage businesses cannot move forward.”
Thailand has more than 3 million migrant workers, the International Organization for Migration says, but rights groups put the figure higher.
Since taking power in a 2014 coup, Thailand’s ruling junta has had varying degrees of success in campaigns to regulate the foreign workforce, spurred partly by media reports that unregulated workers faced exploitation by employers.
About 60,000 workers left between June 23 and June 28, and the number has risen since, an Immigration Bureau official said.
“They were of all nationalities, but the biggest group was from Myanmar,” Deputy Commissioner Pornchai Kuntee said. “They are probably very scared.”
Following news of the exodus, Thailand on Friday promised a 120-day delay in enforcing parts of the decree, including fines that can range up to 800,000 baht ($23,557) for employers who hire unregistered foreign workers without permits.
Geta Devi, 28, a worker from Myanmar based in Bangkok, said some of her friends panicked over the decree and headed home.
Thai government trucks have been taking workers to the Myanmar town of Myawaddy, 246 km east of Yangon, and opposite the Thai town of Mae Sot, a Myanmar official said. It was unclear if they were leaving Thailand voluntarily.
More than 16,000 people, including both legal and undocumented migrants had returned since June 29, said Aung Htay Win, a labour ministry official who is coordinating Myanmar’s response. Teturning workers were being temporarily housed in government buildings.
“Most of them stay for one night or so, then they continue to their home towns,” he said, — Reuters