The Thai and Cambodian governments are working closely with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to provide safe channels of migration as cases of human trafficking persist and workers' rights are not being well-taken care of, a seminar in Bangkok heard Tuesday.
They are working under a European Union (EU)-funded project called "MIG-RIGHT: Supporting and advocating Cambodian migrants' rights in Thailand, preventing violations and human trafficking". It aims to tackle ongoing problems surrounding the mistreatment and illegal entry of Cambodian workers.
Statistics gathered by the Cambodian government and the EU suggest that over 90% of the 1.2 million Cambodian overseas workers are currently employed in Thailand, but less than 30% of them migrated through official channels.
"New laws which tighten protection for workers in the fisheries and other labour sectors have been passed and successfully enacted," said Kanchana Poonkaew, a representative from the Department of Labour Protection and Welfare at the Labour Ministry.
"Contracts between employers and employees are mandatory, as well as direct money transfers via banks," she said.
"Employers must keep accurate records documenting payments to migrant workers to mitigate human trafficking and the exploitation of workers," she added.
"Coupled with increased inspections by our department and the Royal Thai Police, we can minimise the threat of migrant workers' rights being violated,'' Ms Kanchana told attendees at the seminar.
Migrant workers rely on informal channels of entry into Thailand due to the high costs and complicated documentation procedures associated with entering to work legally.
Based on the contents of a 2017 assessment by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Cambodians who want to enter Thailand to work under the terms of a bilateral MOU would have to pay between US$600 (19,140 baht) and $750 each for the privilege.
Because of this financial barrier, the Thai government has been giving migrant workers the opportunity to register for new licences in a bid to improve the nation's records.
Undocumented workers have also been given the opportunity to be registered legally after they pass certain qualifications laid out by the Department of Labour Protection and Welfare, such as proof of nationality. The deadline for this is in late June.
"There has been progress made in both Thailand and Cambodia. The provision of documents was the greatest remedy to protect workers' rights, but no compensation is being offered," said Ben Harkins, a technical officer at the International Labour Organisation's Triangle in Asean Programme.
"Thailand on the other hand provided financial compensation for the majority of cases at 59%, but cases of human trafficking persist," he said.
"Stricter laws must be applied," he said. "Payments being withheld, human trafficking and a lack of welfare for migrant workers are core areas that must be handled progressively," he added.
"Thailand's approach to human trafficking is victim-centric, which means we solely focus on victims to mitigate trafficking including rehabilitation," said Pol Col Thakoon Nimsomboon, deputy commander of the anti-trafficking in persons department within the Royal Thai Police.
"If we treat victims with great care and rehabilitate them well they will be able to provide us with useful information to help us crack on human traffickers.
"Originally, we tended to try and speed up the investigation process. But that can be detrimental, because we might push our opportunity to crack cases down the cliff," Pol Col Thakoon added.
The economic imbalance between Cambodia and Thailand, especially regarding the latter's labour shortage, has led to a surge in the large-scale migration of workers, he said.
The two countries have tried to address such issues with laws and measures to promote safe migration and prevent human trafficking. Such efforts are sufficient but their application presents shortcomings, in some cases even deceiving legislative intentions, he said.