Wed 26 Sep 2012
Filed under: ASEAN,Business / Trade,News
Thailand: Aung San Suu Kyi is scheduled to meet with various Myanmar groups during her US visit.
During her historic visit to Thailand earlier this year, she also addressed overseas Myanmar nationals and called on them to return home.
That call, plus the opening Myanmar economy, means Thailand could lose a large number of lower-skilled labourers.
Many Myanmar migrants are mostly unskilled labourers, doing jobs that Thai workers no longer want.
A large number of them hold legitimate employment papers, but some are illegal.
During an historic visit earlier this year, Myanmar’s pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi vowed to bring them all home.
She also encouraged them to verify their nationalities in order to improve their living standards here.
Once verified, they will get a passport to travel to other provinces in Thailand and have access to social security.
Since that visit however, there has only been a negligible increase in the number of migrants who have registered for nationality verification.
According to the latest figures, there are over 1 million verified Myanmar nationals working in Thailand and approximately 400,000 to 500,000 are currently in the process of verification.
The Thai industrial sector is heavily reliant on Myanmar migrant workers in its workforce.
Myanmar is opening up and more job opportunities will be created for them, but if a large number of Myanmar nationals decide to go back home, it could cause a labour shortage for Thailand.
A seafood wholesaler who employs around 30 Myanmar migrants said that if too many of them go back home, it could affect his business.
Thanatchai Patraporn, a seafood wholesaler, said: “We could experience a serious lack of workers in the seafood industry because Thais are not interested to work in this field as it is unskilled.”
However, another seafood wholesaler is more optimistic, believing that many will not go back if their employers have treated them fairly.
Suwat Sritongbai said: “I’m not worried. I am confident that many workers will not want to go home. They get paid more working here.”
A broker for nationality verification said that opinions will be mixed within the migrant workforce.
Siwapol Teunsuriya said: “When the time comes, there will be two distinct groups. The first will comprise those who have been living in Thailand since 2004. They will not want to go back. The newcomers however, will be more inclined to return to their homeland.”
Chai, a Myanmar national who has been living in Thailand so long that he speaks fluent Thai, said he is still not confident in the process of economic development within his country.
“I am still skeptical about the situation in my home country, so I do not want to go back now. If the situation is clearer in the near future, then I may go back,” he said.
The Thai Ministry of Labour claims it already has a plan in place should a large number of Myanmar nationals decide to return home.
Dechar Peukpattanaruk, Director of the Office of Foreign Workers Administration, Ministry of Labour, said: “We plan to bring in migrant workers of other nationalities if there is a sizable disruption within the labour force that creates a huge impact on the industrial sector.”
Not much has changed in the lives of Myanmar’s migrant workforce in Thailand since the visit by Suu Kyi and the subsequent visit by President Thein Sein.
Now, it will depend on how fast Myanmar can improve its economy and whether the improvement will become attractive enough to lure her migrants home.