Scarcity of workers poses threat to food export boon

Scarcity of workers poses threat to food export boon

The Thai food industry is enjoying higher overseas purchase orders, attributed to the impact of the Russia-Ukraine war, but the windfall may be short-lived as a severe labour shortage in the food sector remains unsolved.

The prospect of global food insecurity, propelled by the prolonged Russia-Ukraine dispute, has caused many countries to stock food by buying it from Asia, said Kriengkrai Thiennukul, chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries (FTI).

"Thai food factories have prepared raw materials for processing to meet demand that is growing out of a shortage of raw materials caused by the war," he said.

The FTI is not worried the shortage will affect Thailand because the country has abundant farm produce and is a major food exporter.

A serious problem in the food industry and its supply chains is labour scarcity which occurred when Thailand was first hit by the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, causing a large number of migrant workers to return home.

The industry depends on workers from Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos.

"The number of Thai and migrant workers in the food industry is estimated at 500,000," said Mr Kriengkrai, stressing the industry is labour intensive, but after the onset of Covid-19, up to 300,000 workers disappeared.

The FTI has called on the government to rapidly solve the labour shortage by signing memoranda of understanding with neighbouring countries to import more migrant workers.

Since the government reopened the country late last year to boost the tourism sector and relaxed more measures against Covid-19, economic activities have increased, leading to greater demand for more workers.

Thailand needs more workers to drive the tourism, service, manufacturing and export sectors, said the FTI.

This year, Thailand's food export value is expected to stand at 1.2 trillion baht, according to the National Food Institute.

The export sector is playing a key role in boosting GDP in 2022.

The Joint Standing Committee on Commerce, Industry and Banking predicts export growth of 3-5% this year.

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