THAILAND is home to more than 55 per cent of the region’s migrant workers but if the country could back it up with proper policies, it could contribute to economic growth under the much-talked-about Thailand 4.0 strategy, according to a World Bank report.
Unveiling the report yesterday at an event jointly organised by the Labour Ministry and World Bank, Mauro Testaverde, the bank’s economist for the East Asia and Pacific Social Protection and Labour Unit stressed that effective migrant systems could play a critical role in today’s knowledge-based economies by attracting highly productive, formally employed workers.
While the Asean Economic Community may now allow free movement of workers, the expert explained that Asean countries only focused on high-skilled migration which did not cover the majority of the intra-region migrants, who were mostly low-skilled and often undocumented.
Although trends showed a change in demography that indicated Thailand may be in need of more workers, Testaverde pointed out that Thailand has banned migrant workers from 39 occupations, including some of those listed by the Asean’s Mutual Recognition Agreements, such as engineering, accounting, and architects. Thailand at least could first address shortages in the labour markets, he said.
Apart from that, the country could try to be more evidence-based, transparent and predictable when it came to migration policies, he added. Meanwhile, adjusting the policies in accordance with the rapid change in the labour markets was also advisable, he said.
Currently, with a high number of informal migrants, the World Bank report entitled “Migrating to Opportunity: Overcoming Barriers to Labor Mobility in Southeast Asia” also suggested that Thailand needed to work more to accommodate the needs of the large population of undocumented migrants, rationalise entry procedures that are currently costly and time-consuming, aside from rethinking immigration policies.
Three major economies in the region – Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia – host a combined 6.5 million migrant workers, equivalent to 96 per cent of the entire region.
Nearly half of the 3 million migrant workers in Thailand are undocumented, according to Labour Minister Adul Sangsingkeo. Migrant workers in Thailand are mostly from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia, the bank report said.
Labour mobility in Asean brings benefits to the citizens of both receiving and sending countries, Adul said. However, a migration system requires collaboration between not only sending and receiving countries but also other stakeholders, in order to bring about the greatest gains from labour migration, the labour minister said.
Meanwhile, Jane Namchaisiri, chairman of a joint panel of the Federation of Thai Industries, said that the mindset on migrant workers in Thailand needed to change. While the common impression is that the migrants were taking away the welfare of Thais, Jane said they were an important part of the workforce and made a significant economic contribution.
Jane also shared his experience about migrant workers, complaining that paperwork remained a serious problem. Hiring 200 migrant workers required a company to work on 200 sets of paperwork, which could be time-consuming, an experience corroborated by the World Bank report.
As reform has been a major theme in Thailand in the past four years, Ulrich Zachau, World Bank director for Thailand, said the World Bank supports reforms that ensure consistency of migration policies and systems with Thailand’s economic needs
Efforts to align migration policies and systems with its strategic transformation into a modern, high-knowledge, innovative economy are highly welcome, he added.
“Strong, streamlined labour policies and systems to facilitate migration commensurate with labour needs, the increased use of data by decision-makers, and lower costs for would-be migrant workers will be key to realising the vision of Thailand 4.0,” he said.