Labour law hiatus sparks abuse fears
Government warns officials against exploitation
State agencies have been ordered to refrain from abusing their power following Tuesday's invocation of a special order under Section 44 to allow a 180-day reprieve for people involved in the employment of unregistered migrant workers.
The Section 44 order published in the Royal Gazette Tuesday stipulates that the enforcement of four sections of the executive decree on the recruitment of migrant workers will be suspended until Jan 1 next year.
"Law enforcement officials or state officials involved in the proceedings under this legislation or the order have been warned against abusing their positions," the order stipulates.
Some critics have raised concerns that ill-intentioned officials may extort employers and migrant workers who are unaware of the hiatus despite the fact that punishments under the law have been suspended.
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Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said the time frame of the reprieve has been extended from the earlier planned 120 days.
The decree's sections that have been suspended are Sections 101, 102, 119 and 122. These cover punishment clauses levelled against employers and any of their workers who are unregistered.
The law stipulates harsher punishments for both civil and criminal wrongdoings associated with the illegal hiring of migrant workers, with fines ranging from 400,000-800,000 baht.
The four sections will come back into force from Jan 1 next year, he said, adding that during the reprieve period, officials will not be allowed to prosecute or fine anyone involved in offences.
The order is retroactive to June 23 when the executive decree on the recruitment of migrant workers came into effect.
The new law came under fire after it triggered an exodus of unregistered workers back to neighbouring countries.
The reprieve would allow employers of unregistered alien workers to proceed with their registration, he said, adding officials were also told not exploit these workers.
Complaints over officials' offences could be lodged at the government's Damrongtham complaint centres as well as agencies the officials work at, Mr Wissanu noted.
The deputy premier said, during the reprieve period, the Labour Ministry will be asked to review the decree and consider whether the punishments or any measures involved should be tweaked.
The ministry will be given four months to deal with the issue and forward its recommendations to the cabinet for consideration, he added.
Mr Wissanu defended the government's decision to enact the executive decree to deal with the illegal worker issue, saying had the administration gone ahead with drafting an act, it would have taken more than six months for the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) to process the legislation.
He said the government is under pressure as a result of various factors, which had forced it to roll out the legislation quickly.
Referring to the steep fines for transgressors, the deputy premier said the decree is among a set of laws aimed at thwarting human trafficking and the severity of the punishments should fit the crime.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha stressed the need to prevent human trafficking. He said if the problem were not resolved, it would hamper trade with other countries.
"If we let this problem go on, what will we do if they stop buying our goods?" Gen Prayut said.
He also called on unregistered migrant workers to undergo the documentation procedure and nationality verification process.
Any alien workers who change jobs are also required to be re-registered which can be done inside the country, Gen Prayut noted.
As for reports that officials at a checkpoint in Tak's Mae Sot district extorted money from undocumented workers, Gen Prayut said officials had been instructed to look into the matter and punishment of the offenders would be meted out.
Labour Minister Sirichai Distakul said authorities would try to ensure convenience for employers who want to get their migrant workers documented.
Varanon Peetiwan, director-general of the Department of Employment, said around 1.3 million workers from neighbouring countries have been given a reprieve to stay in Thailand temporarily until March 31 next year, and efforts will be made to issue identification documents for them by that time.
Myanmar, Lao and Cambodian authorities have been contacted to provide relevant documents to their workers at the five nationality verification centres, he said.
Meanwhile, the National Council for Peace and Order said several state agencies would make things more convenient for migrant workers to change their registration documents or undergo the legalisation process during the reprieve.
The ministries of Labour, Foreign Affairs and the Interior as well as the Royal Thai Police will work on the matter, he said.
Referring to the exodus of migrant workers who fear prosecution, Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai said there has been no reaction by the Myanmar government so far, which is a good thing.
Myanmar might understand this is an internal affair which needs to be handled by Thailand, he said.
National Security Council secretary-general Thaweep Netniyom urged migrant workers to come to Thailand legitimately so they are protected under Thai laws.
In Sa Kaeo, Aranyaprathet district chief Sawanit Suriyakul Na Ayutthaya said he had been informed that Cambodia has closed 43 temporary crossings in three districts for Cambodian workers who enter and exit Thailand because of the new law.