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Migrant workers race to beat document deadline

Migrant workers yesterday flocked to the Labour Ministry office in Samut Sakhon to apply for nationality verification, as the government decided not to extend the deadline.



Foreign labourers had until yesterday to prove their nationality, and those who fail to do so will be repatriated, according to Labour Minister Phadermchai Sasomsap.

Yanin Bunmee, chief of Samut Sakhon's nationality verification centre for Myanmar workers, said the daily verification of around 200 to 400 migrant workers has sharply increased to nearly 1,000 per day in the last two days, compelling labour officials to work until 2am daily.

Most workers in Samut Sakhon, home to the fisheries industry and seafood-packing plants, are from Myanmar.

The government's deadline for an estimated 900,000 registered alien workers to prove their nationality to the Labour Ministry expired yesterday.

About 350,000 registered workers failed to meet the deadline and another 1.5 million foreigners work as labourers illegally, according to estimates by the government and labour rights groups.

A mass deportation would threaten labour-intensive industries, such as fisheries and construction, labour activists warned.

"If these 1.5 million people get sent back, the economy would be crushed. It's impossible," said Andy Hall, international adviser to the State Enterprise Work Relations Confederation of Thailand.

Given Thailand's dependence on its illegal labour force, the seriousness of the government's threat of mass deportation is being questioned.

"What we are going to see after [yesterday] is a massive extortion exercise by Thai authorities because they will be able to take advantage of the undocumented workers," Hall said.

Labour rights and business groups had urged the government to extend the deadline.

The Thai Chamber of Commerce on Thursday called on Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to defer the deadline for nationality verification, saying the mass repatriation of migrant workers would result in a severe labour shortage.

Padermchai said the deadline had been extended twice and employers wishing to rehire repatriated workers can apply to the Labour Ministry.

Nationality verification is significant in solving the problem of illegal foreign labour employment, which has negatively branded Thailand as a country where child labour and human trafficking are rampant.


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