The migration of large sections of the Thai workforce out of Bangkok to the country’s provinces during the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of the development of Thailand’s creative industry based on collaboration between various sectors in the local community.

According to a Bank of Thailand study, approximately 1.5 million people, or 1.5% of the total workforce, migrated from the previous location of their workplace in 2020, an increase of 660,000 people from 2019.

Bangkok is the city from which the largest number of workers migrated, at approximately 130,000 people, followed by Chonburi with approximately 56,000, Chiang Mai with approximately 50,000, Phuket with approximately 43,000, and Rayong with approximately 41,000. These provinces are key locations where workers typically migrate and key destinations for tourists.

The Bank of Thailand study found that the provinces which received the highest volumes of migrant workers were Bangkok with approximately 84,000, followed by Pathum Thani, Chiang Mai, Nakhon Ratchasima and Nakorn Srithammarat.

This trend is clearly a result of the business lockdown and other impacts from the pandemic which has hit the workforce in the service sector hard, such as those employed in hotels and restaurants, forcing people to migrate back to their hometowns where the cost of living is lower and they can often find work in the agricultural sector. Overall, Bangkok ranked first in terms of people moving in and out last year.

These findings are in line with another survey which focused on the occupations of the migrant workforce. This second study revealed that the sectors in which the largest volumes of the workforce migrated were the middle-to low-income groups. The 280,000 migrant workers in the service sector and 180,000 in “basic jobs” accounted for 44% of the total migrant workforce. From the income aspect, the section of the workforce with an average daily wage of between US$9.4 and 16 accounted for 60% of the migrant workforce.

The study quoted the International Labour Organization as saying that those who returned to their home cities were mostly aged between 15 and 24 years old. Workers in this age group represented the largest single group, estimated to be 320,000 individuals, representing 31% of the total migrant workforce.

According to the 2019 Human Achievement Index, the average score for Thailand’s provinces was 0.6219 out of 1. The relatively high score, especially in housing and environmental development, suggests significant potential. Nonthaburi, Bangkok, Pathum Thani, Phuket and Rayong were the provinces which achieved the most progress compared to the previous index, while Narathiwat, Pattani, Mae Hong Son, Surin and Buriram recorded the least progress. Strong communities with rich resources in terms of water, land, and forest were considered best able to support their residents who, in turn, would then strengthen the food security and local economy.

These local communities have opportunities to strengthen and reinvent themselves in the new normal era. The COVID-relief funds offered by the government can be used to create short-term jobs and implement long-term development projects.

Local communities could work together and channel their efforts to produce high value-added agricultural products, develop new local tourist sites, promote their cultural heritage, and capitalise on their local wisdom as well as investing in strategic areas of importance such as food quality standards and local infrastructure.

Over the past ten years, many cities have been developed as creative city prototypes. For example, Chainat province has developed its rice seed industry; Chiang Mai has focused on handicrafts; Khon Kaen has developed itself to be an intelligent city and the best source for silk products.

Local development is part of national efforts to reduce social inequality, meet the challenges of the ageing society, and manage the expansion of urban areas. The capacity-building aims for these communities are to help them to be able to stand on their own feet and to achieve development sustainability.

The close cooperation between businesses, communities, and the public sector will help local communities across the country overcome the challenges they are facing in the present and come out stronger, more independent and better equipped to create a sustainable future for themselves.

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