Foreign jobs see Thais packing their bags for a better future
text size

Foreign jobs see Thais packing their bags for a better future

Special report: New regulations have made working abroad an even better bet

Getting a job abroad and earning higher wages is a dream for many Thais as they watch their neighbours build homes and fund children's education with money sent from overseas.

According to the Overseas Employment Administration Division, more than 160,000 Thai nationals leave for jobs abroad each year, mostly to Asia, especially Taiwan, South Korea and Japan.

In 2017, overseas Thai workers sent home 126 billion baht, based on figures provided by the Bank of Thailand. More women are also seeking jobs overseas due to the changing economic situation in Thailand and opportunities in foreign countries.

Yongyuth, a 46-year-old native of Sukhothai, is the kind of neighbour who inspires others to hunt for jobs on foreign soil.

"I've been employed overseas for more than 20 years and it has changed my fortunes. I have provided a comfortable life for my family -- a home, car and savings," Mr Yongyuth said.

He has worked in Taiwan, Germany, Russia and the UAE. His next job is in Singapore where he and 20 others will work in a wastewater treatment tunnel construction project.

According to Mr Yongyuth, his employment contract is flawless -- a guaranteed minimum wage plus welfare benefits including two days off per week and, above all, excellent safety standards.

To get this kind of job, it is about who you know, said Mr Yongyuth. There are 30-40 people in his circle and none of them paid enormous placement fees typically found elsewhere.

He landed his first overseas job about 25 years ago and has plans to retire in four years when he is 50 so he can spend more time with his family. This is also the age limit of the construction company that hires him.

Jeng, 27, from Nakhon Ratchasima, is waiting to travel to Japan under a new job placement contract with the Labour Ministry's Department of Employment. He hopes to earn enough to give his family a brighter future.

"I worked in Taiwan for three years in a bicycle part factory and saved 300,000 baht. Overtime work is an option there and I chose to do it because it's better than going out which means expenses," he said.

Those seeking employment overseas often have to obtain loans to pay job placement brokers and other fees which they hope to recoup once they land the job and have worked for a while.

If they are lucky they get to earn good money at a reputable company, like Mr Yongyuth and Mr Jeng.

Those who are less lucky may find themselves in a similar position to Eddy, a 36-year-old native of Ubon Ratchathani, who this month came home early from after working in Taiwan. He was disappointed with his employment there, which was also his first taste of working abroad.

It was not the hard physical work itself, but the substandard working environment and restrictions on cooking that made him regret his decision to leave Thailand.

Mr Eddy contacted his job broker and asked to return home with a hope that he would get some of the placement fees back. He paid 80,000 baht for the service but ended up in a two-man mechanical part making factory with zero safety standards.

As a former worker at a car factory in Chon Buri, he was highly sceptical about the working conditions he encountered, especially when he was forced to buy his own gloves and face mask.

"I was unlucky. I went there prepared to endure the hard work. But I wasn't prepared for something else. I wasn't allowed to cook. That meant a lot of expenses even though they paid a living subsidy. It wasn't enough," he said.

According to Chalobon Kachonpadungitti, director of the Overseas Employment Administration Division, Taiwan has been popular among Thai workers over the past 20 years.

It is a country that has multiple and diverse industries with appealing employment terms and work contracts which are valid for three years and can be renewed four times without the need to return home.

The distance, weather conditions and cost of living are also key elements for Thai workers seeking their first jobs there, especially when compared to Israel, Japan or South Korea.

With tightened rules and cooperation from foreign governments under a Memorandum of Understanding on migrant labour, the risk of Thai workers of being cheated by job brokers has been substantially reduced. The agreement has also lowered the costs the job seekers have to bear.

Placement agencies are not allowed to overcharge and their fee must not exceed the first month of a worker's pay.

Those who seek to be employed under these contracts are required to register and submit job applications with the employment offices. They are also expected to fulfil requirements imposed by their destination countries.

South Korea has the Employment Permit System which requires workers to pass language skill tests.

Japan has a "job training" programme which offers three years of work in the country and monthly allowances towards expenses such as air tickets paid by the Japanese government.

The selected workers, who are also required to take language courses, must absorb other costs such as accommodations, utility, social security coverage and taxes as required by local laws.

After completing the training, they are issued certificates and an occupation support fund worth about 200,000 baht (600,000 yen).

Each country has its own advantages, according to Ms Chalobon. Israel offers a 48,000 baht monthly salary before taxes, although contracts are only valid for a maximum of three years.

In South Korea, the minimum salary is 29,400 baht, but workers can earn up to 40,000 baht if they do overtime.

However, job scams still exist, Ms Chalobon said, noting that workers are usually promised jobs in countries where entry visas are not necessary. Many Thais enter those countries with tourist visas and become undocumented and illegal workers which makes them vulnerable to exploitation.

She said workers are strongly advised to seek jobs through registered job placement agencies and consult the Department of Employment if they have suspicions.

"Don't pay brokerage until the itinerary is confirmed, and the payment should not be made in cash. Banks are the best places to make the transaction so it is officially recorded," she said.

A source familiar with job placement in Israel has welcomed state intervention which has helped reduce high brokerage fees which once stood at 300,000 baht. Currently, the fees and other expenses are estimated at 70,000 baht.

"But there are some other issues such as low OT payments, unexpected fees on entry and a lack of safety equipment when working with chemicals," the source said.

Do you like the content of this article?