Thailand plans to deport thousands of migrant workers from neighbouring countries now that a National Verification (NV) deadline has passed.
"What we are trying to do here is give these workers an opportunity to register under government protection three consecutive times this past year. We know how critical these workers are to our economy and at some point in time we are trying to get together and try to figure how to deal with it."
- Sean Boonpracong, an adviser to the prime minister's office
The Thai government said that migrant workers who failed to apply for NV by last Friday's deadline are required to report to immigration offices in border provinces to be deported.
However, there have also been reports suggesting that Thailand will extend its deadline for Myanmarese workers by three months following a meeting between the leaders of the two countries.
The National Verification system that the government introduced was meant to allow illegal migrants to acquire legal status.
The programme requires migrants to get temporary passports at home in order to renew or apply for Thai work permits. If granted legal status, they are given the same labour rights as Thai citizens, including a 35 percent minimum wage increase for those working in some regions starting in January.
"Workers face a life of daily fear of local officials and police. Many of them are in debt bondage arrangements with their employers and cannot change employers and they live in cramp, crowded dormitories .... The other aspect of it is that the Thai policy on migrants has a national security concern at its core that encourages and forces migrants to stay with one employer except in the most grievous of circumstances."
- Phil Robertson, from Human Rights Watch
But the system is already said to be rife with corruption, as unscrupulous brokers and government staff extort money from illegal workers in return for the processing of paperwork.
Between two million and two-and-a-half million migrant workers from neighbouring countries, including Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia, live in the kingdom, according to a 2011 government census.
About 80 percent of them are from Myanmar. Most work in labour-intensive industries such as seafood processing and garments, and their unregistered status leaves them vulnerable to abuse.
So, is the Thai government abusing their rights or simply enacting laws?
Inside Story, with presenter Hazem Sika, discusses the plight of migrant workers with guests: Sean Boonpracong, an international adviser to trade representatives in the prime minister's office; Rajiv Biswas, a senior director and Asia-Pacific chief economist with IHS Global Insight, an economic and financial analysis company; and Phil Robertson, a deputy director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch.
FACTS ABOUT THAILAND'S MIGRANT WORKFORCE:
- Well over two million foreign migrant workers are living in Thailand
- These are mostly from neighbouring countries like Myanmar and Cambodia
- The majority of these workers have not been registered with the government
- Undocumented workers receive an average of less than $4 a day
- Migrants who are fully documented by the government receive close to $7.5 a day
- Documented persons work as manual labourers in jobs like fishing and factory work
- They contribute around 6.2 percent of the country's gross domestic product