Junta’s effort to suppress human trafficking backfires

The junta’s attempt to prevent human trafficking has pushed migrant workers into a more precarious situation. 
 
Migrant workers and their employers said the new Management of Foreign Workers’ Employment Act, which came into force in June 2017, may not have achieved the intended purpose of protecting migrant workers from human trafficking because the implementation of the law has opened a loophole for exploitation by the middlemen. 
 
Sai Htun Shwe, a Burmese migrant, told Voice TV that it is tough for migrants to register for a work permit from the Ministry of Labour themselves since all the legal documents are available only in Thai. Therefore, they have no choice but to hire an agency to help with the process. The middlemen, he said, exploited this opportunity to overcharge the workers. 
 
“We have to follow the law without being able to read it,” stated Sai Htun Shwe, adding that the junta should have listened to migrant workers before issuing the law which has an impact on them. “We have to register every two years. That means the Labour Ministry will make 6,800 million baht [from registration fees]. Can this money be spent to take care of us? Like translating the law?” he added.
 
Thanasak Kijroongrojana of the Thai Chamber of Commerce pointed out that the junta’s policy has repercussions for employers as well. The new law has made it more difficult for companies to employ a migrant worker directly, so they usually hire agencies to recruit workers for them. The employers also have problems with some fraudulent agencies. 
 
“Employing a migrant is very complicated. All along businesses and employers have had to pay a large amount of money to agencies to recruit workers but did not get any workers. Many times we were cheated and the various conditions that the government set are exploited by the middlemen to get more money from workers.”
 
In an attempt to suppress human trafficking, the junta in June enacted the Management of Foreign Workers’ Employment Act which imposed harsh punishment on migrants and employers who fail to comply. The act states that migrants who work without a permit could face up to five years in prison and fines of between 2,000 and 100,000 baht. 
 
Employers also face hefty fines of 400,000 to 800,000 baht for each undocumented migrant worker they hire, which has led some to encourage their migrant workers to leave. Even if their workers have authorisation, the employers could still be fined 400,000 baht per worker and the worker 100,000 baht if the job is not the same as the one registered at the Department of Employment.
 
Shortly after the law came into force, numerous migrants decided to return their home country due to the fear of punitive sentences. Since migrant workers are a crucial part of the Thai economy, various investors urged the junta to show leniency. 
 
The junta subsequently invoked its absolute power under Section 44 of the Interim Charter to postpone the implementation of some problematic sections and urged the migrants to finish registration for a work permit by the end of March 2018.
 
 
Migrants in Samut Sakhon queue up for work permit registration in 2014