Closed borders worsen labour dearth

Closed borders worsen labour dearth

Migrant workers at the Labour Ministry. Mr Poj said many migrant workers that returned home have yet to return because borders are closed.
Migrant workers at the Labour Ministry. Mr Poj said many migrant workers that returned home have yet to return because borders are closed.

A labour shortage, particularly in manpower-intensive industries such as agribusiness and food processing, is likely to intensify over the long term as the pandemic makes it difficult for foreign labour to move across borders.

Poj Aramwattananont, president of the Labour and Skill Development Committee and vice-chairman of the Thai Board of Trade, said the business sector is concerned about a labour shortage in the long term after several hundred thousand foreign workers returned home following the outbreak.

Most workers who returned home have yet to return to Thailand, while new infections are rising in neighbouring countries, leading the government to retain its strict lockdown measures along the borders.

Prior to the outbreak, there were about 3 million foreign workers legally registered. Foreign workers represent up to 50-60% of workers in certain labour-intensive industries such as agribusiness and food.

Thailand also remains short of workers in elderly care and as housekeepers, he said.

Mr Poj said although Thai workers are encouraged to work in the industrial sector, many unemployed Thais are uninterested in working in factories related to food processing, rubber gloves, food and agricultural products.

"The private sector is calling on all parties to come up with measures to stimulate or entice Thai unemployed workers to work in industries such as the agricultural and food industries, which are estimated to need 200,000-300,000 workers," he said.

"After the pandemic recedes, we are afraid business owners that fail to find workers may opt to use more automated systems and machines, eventually resulting in higher unemployment in the country."

Mr Poj said figures on unemployed workers after the outbreak are still hazy.

He cited figures from the Social Security Office, which estimated unemployed workers at 600,000 following the outbreak.

Normally the unemployment rate in Thailand averages 300,000 people a year.

"In the first quarter of next year, the picture will become clearer of how many Thai workers will be left unemployed," said Mr Poj. "Worrisome sectors include hotels and tourism."

In the longer term, with Thailand having to forge free trade agreements both on the bilateral and multilateral basis, such as Thai-EU FTA, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, these all require higher standards for labour protection and labour rights, he said.

"It is a must for all parties to jointly study the impact of these deals," said Mr Poj.

In August the state planning unit warned as many as 1.76 million workers risked losing their jobs if factories that used Section 75 of the Labour Protection Act failed to restart their operations.

Section 75 of the act allows factories to temporarily suspend part or all of their operations due to financial hardship, but they have to pay employees 75% of their regular daily wages during this period.

According to a report by the National Economic and Social Development Council (NESDC), 1.76 million workers have received compensation under Section 75.

The NESDC reported total unemployment of 750,000 people in the second quarter, making up 1.95% of the total workforce.

That figure is the highest since the second quarter of 2009.

There were 38.2 million workers for the period, down 0.6% year-on-year. Of the total, 37.1 million were employed, down 1.9% year-on-year.

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