Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has falsely claimed that the election-winning Move Forward Party plans to expel Cambodian workers from Thailand.
The veteran strongman made the claim at a rally attended by 17,000 workers from an industrial park in Kandal province on Saturday, the Khmer Times reported.
He said any plan by Thailand to expel foreign migrant workers — especially those from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar — may have a dramatic impact not only on the three countries’ economy, but also on the Thai economy which relies heavily on foreign labour.
Hun Sen himself will also face the voters in national polls on July 23, albeit without any meaningful challengers since the Supreme Court dissolved the country’s only remaining major opposition party.
“Under the caretaker government, led by Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, millions of illegal foreign workers have been granted legal status, but if they are expelled, there will be impact on the Thai economy,” Hun Sen said.
It is not clear how Hun Sen reached the conclusion that migrant workers were in danger of being forced to leave Thailand. However, one Thai administrative provision related to migrant workers was recently extended to ensure policy continuity during the period between the election and the formation of a new government.
None of the parties campaigning for the May 14 election in Thailand made any mention of policies to repatriate migrant labourers. In fact, the country’s recovering economy continues to face a labour shortage in sectors such as tourism and construction.
Successive governments have taken many steps to ensure a smoother path to legal migration and basic labour rights, working with neighbouring countries, for workers who want to come to Thailand.
Hun Sen also offered some unsolicited political advice to Move Forward, saying that the winning party should look further as “winning the election does not mean you become the Prime Minister. Up to 376 votes are needed to form a government, not just 151 votes”.
A group that helps Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand acknowledged that they were worried about their status as rumours had circulated that they would no longer be able to work in the country.
A small group of Thai people biased towards Cambodian workers have been spreading fake news, indicating that they have to return home immediately as Cambodian workers are no longer wanted in Thailand, said Ry Chay, first vice-president of The Charity Association of Cambodia.
“They distort the official information around, saying Thai authorities don’t need Cambodian and Laotian migrant workers anymore and spread it out across the country,” he told the Khmer Times.
“I get so many calls every day from Cambodian workers in Thailand who are concerned about the news, as they still want to work in Thailand. I explained to them by phone and on my Facebook page and now 60% of them have understood the information from Thai authorities.”
He said some confusion had arisen after Thai authorities informed employers that they no longer needed to register their quota of workers at the Department of Labour in Bangkok. They can now do it at the department offices in the province where their business is located.
“The Thai authorities now allow employers who need Cambodian and Laotian migrant workers to apply in their respective province, which is easier for them,” Ry Chay said.
The cabinet last week approved an extension to employment contracts that allows more than 200,000 migrant workers to keep their jobs.
The contract extension, under the terms of a broader memorandum of understanding that regulates migrant labour, will last only as long as the current government remains in its caretaker capacity.
The measure is subject to review once a new administration is formed.
According to Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, without the extension the migrant workers would have had to return home and wait until a new government took power before they could come back to resume their employment in Thailand.