Phuket officials accused of extorting foreign workers

Phuket officials accused of extorting foreign workers

Patong beach in Phuket is popular among foreign tourists. (Photo by Achataya Chuenniran)
Patong beach in Phuket is popular among foreign tourists. (Photo by Achataya Chuenniran)

PHUKET: Local police and state officials in Phuket are exploiting legal loopholes to extort money from foreign employees and migrant workers, says a former senator.

Thanyarat Atchariyachai, a former chairwoman of the Senate committee on tourism, said she had received numerous complaints from people affected by misconduct of state officials.

She said the operator of a major Scandinavian tour agency that brought holidaymakers to the island told her that foreign staff with work permits were harassed by officials, particularly in tourist venues such as Kata, Karon and Patong beaches. 

She said the officials approached the foreign staff and asked to check their work permits, usually on Fridays. Even though the foreigners insisted they had valid permits, the officials threatened to take them to a police station for detention pending interrogation, according to a report in Thairath Online.

The officials chose Fridays as it would be difficult for the foreigners to raise bail on a weekend, and the prospect of spending a weekend in jail frightened them. If they didn't want to go to the station, they were asked to pay 20,000 baht each, said Ms Thanyarat.

She said there were also cases of registered migrant workers who were threatened with arrest for working outside the areas specified in their documents. Officials allegedly demanded 5,000 baht each from the workers in exchange for dropping the charges.

Ms Thanyarat cited the example of laundry workers in tambon Chalong who had to deliver clothes to customers on Karon beach. Officials from a government agency arrested them along the delivery route and claimed they were working outside a permitted area, she said.

“I have already notified a deputy chairman of the National Legislative Assembly about the problems," she said. "An NLA panel on labour affairs will be sent to investigate."

Ms Thanyarat also said she had received a complaint from a tour agency about bribe-taking at Phuket airport.

Long queues are common at the busy airport, and the tour agency claimed that officials asked travellers to pay 200 baht if they wanted their waiting time shortened.

Ms Thanyarat said she had brought the complaints to the attention of high-level officials in the province. The problems, if left unaddressed, would tarnish the reputation of Phuket, she said.

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