Buri Ram factories raided in hunt for illegal workers

Businesses in Buri Ram province were raided yesterday by labour authorities searching for illegal migrant workers.

Authorities aimed to find whether employers have been recruiting illegal aliens in response to the mandated minimum daily wage increase to 300 baht.

The wage hike took effect nationwide on Jan 1.

Staff from the employment office, the labour protection and welfare office and the skills development office of Buri Ram conducted the search at factories and workplaces in Muang district.

The checks began earlier this month and so far officials have found two illegal workers. Both were from Cambodia.

Last year, officials in the province arrested 52 illegal workers from Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos. All of them were employed in paddy fields or sugarcane plantations.

At present there are 514 employers with 1,000 legal migrant workers employed in the province, officials said.

Jimmy Saw, the managing director of Siri Resort in Buri Ram, said the minimum wage hike has increased his labour costs from 100,000 baht per month to 150,000 baht per month. He said his food costs are also rising.

To cope with his mounting costs he plans to increase the amount he charges for his rooms.

The government should be offering soft loans to business operators affected by the minimum wage hike to keep them from laying off workers or shutting down, Mr Saw said.

Bangkok MP Jermmas Juenglertsiri said the wage hike has hurt small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Finance Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong erred in rejecting the private sector's request for the government to subsidise the wage hike for three years, she told the House.

Deputy Finance Minister Tanusak Lek-uthai said the higher wage will benefit tens of millions of people and the government is taking action to support SMEs.

The number of total businesses remains about the same since the wage hike took effect in some provinces last year, he added.

Labour Minister Padermchai Sasomsap said businesses knew the wage hike was coming more than a year in advance. He said the government and the private sector worked out measures together to cope with the strain of higher wages.

He said that his ministry has set a target of creating 120,000 jobs to absorb newly laid-off workers.

The government is also working with other countries _ mainly in the Middle East _ about importing Thais in search of work, he said.

Some businesses have seized on the wage hike to replace workers with new machinery, he added.

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Writer: Surachai Piragsa & Mongkol Bangprapa