Hundreds of thousands of migrants in Thailand may have become undocumented after losing their jobs due to the coronavirus outbreak and not finding new employment to maintain their legal status, a Thai NGO warned on Wednesday.
Many of the more than half a million migrant workers who disappeared from the government’s employment database from August 2019 to October this year, would have lost their jobs due to a lockdown-related economic downturn after the pandemic began, said Adisorn Kerdmongkol, a coordinator with the Migrant Working Group.
“What clearly happened was that 592,450 migrant workers disappeared from the employment database system [according to the government] during August 2019 to October 2020, which means they could have become illegal migrants,” Adisorn told a forum at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand in Bangkok.
His organization was able to confirm that at least 345,072 of the 592,450 workers lost their jobs during that 14-month period, he added.
“Due to the [coronavirus-related] economic downturn, many workers were laid off after their contracts expired or their companies closed down. The labor law requires migrant workers to find a new employee within 30 days, otherwise they lose their legal status,” Adisorn said.
Many of these migrants were not able to find new employers within that window as there were no jobs, he said.
Thailand had an estimated 2.88 million documented migrant workers as of August 2019, according to the Ministry of Labor’s Department of Employment.
The Southeast Asian nation has long been a regional magnet for millions of migrants who come from Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and other neighboring countries to find work.
The pandemic, along with its economic ripple effects and coronavirus-related movement restrictions, have battered the Thai construction and service industries that employ many foreign workers.
Thailand was pushed into recession as early as May, as the pandemic hit tourism and domestic activity. The country’s economy is expected to shrink by 7.15 percent in December, compared with a growth of 2.36 percent in December 2019, according to the International Monetary Fund.
‘No job but same expenses’
The government is aware of the problem these migrant workers are facing after losing their jobs and has been pondering a solution, Suchart Pornwisetchaikul, director-general of the employment department, told BenarNews on Wednesday.
“We heard about it from NGOs and many employers. We have meetings with involved government agencies to find appropriate measures and we will make it public once we see the solution,” Suchart said.
The pandemic’s travel restrictions have made helping these migrants even more difficult, said Tanadej Panyawiwattanakorn, a labor specialist at the department.
“Thai authorities are ready to coordinate with countries of origin to support migrant workers. However, due to the COVID-19 situation, borders have to stay closed and we are not able to move forward,” Tanadej said on Tuesday, at a separate panel discussion at the FCCT organized by the Mekong Migration Network (MMN).
The network is a regional grouping that promotes migrant workers’ rights in the Greater Mekong Subregion.
A labor rights advocate from the Migrant Worker Rights Network said the Thai government should legalize migrant workers who lost their jobs due to the pandemic.
“They should be allowed to stay and have their visas extended,” Suthasinee Kaewleklai, told the forum on Wednesday.
A migrant worker from Myanmar described to the forum how difficult it was for the families of those who had lost their jobs abroad.
Many struggle to pay rent and utility bills as well as put food on their tables, Khaing Min Lwin told the forum.
“Workers lose their jobs but they still have the same expenses,” Khaing said.
“A certain household has seven members, only four work. After three lose their jobs due to COVID, only one remains working – they don’t know how they live their life.”
The Thai government should not leave the migrant workers to fend for themselves, said Brahm Press, executive director of the MAP Foundation, a Thai NGO that helps migrants from Myanmar.
“Many migrants consider Thailand as their home,” and the government needs to remedy the shortcomings in the way the social security system handles their benefit claims, Brahm said.
In April, the cabinet of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha approved compensation of about 7,080 to 8,000 baht (U.S. $220 to $250) per month for three months from the social security fund for local and foreign enrollees.
But it is difficult for foreign workers to claim compensation, Migrant Working Group’s Adisorn told BenarNews in May.
“The government thinks the workers get compensated promptly, but they in fact need to go in person to the fund offices and deal with Thai-language paperwork, while certain areas are blockaded and officials work from home,” Adisorn had said.
In addition, the procedure to file for compensation is complicated, Suthasinee Kaewleklai, a labor rights advocate at the Migrant Worker Rights Network, told BenarNews seven months ago.
“If the government is sincere in its efforts to fix the problems, it should ease the compensation claim procedure by allowing them to go and deal with the social fund office right away,” she said back in May.