TRIANGLE in ASEAN – Thailand

The ILO TRIANGLE in ASEAN is a partnership between the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), the Global Affairs Canada (GAC), and the International Labour Organization (ILO). TRIANGLE in ASEAN delivers technical assistance and support with the overall goal of maximizing the contribution of labour migration to equitable, inclusive and stable growth in ASEAN.

Programme objectives

TRIANGLE in ASEAN has the overall goal of maximizing the contribution of labour migration to equitable, inclusive and stable growth in ASEAN. It builds on the activities, relationships and processes established under previous phases of the programme.

Programme outcomes

  • Protection: Migrant workers are better protected by labour migration governance frameworks;
  • Development: Policies and programmes harness the potential of women and men migrant workers to contribute to economic and social development and
  • Mobility: Labour mobility systems are gender-responsive and increase the efficiency of labour markets in the ASEAN region.

Labour migration

Over the last two decades, Thailand has become a key destination for migrant workers from neighbouring countries, and increasingly from further afield in ASEAN. As of January 2018, there were estimated to be 3.8 million migrant workers in Thailand (Ministry of Labour, 2018).

Women and men migrant workers make a substantial contribution to Thailand’s economic performance. According to a study by the ILO and OECD, migrants were responsible for 4.3-6.6% of Thailand’s GDP in 2010, while representing 4.7% of the employed population (ILO/OECD, 2017). These migrants are predominately employed in low-skilled jobs, including fishing, agriculture, construction, manufacturing, domestic work and other services. Thailand is also a country of origin for migrant workers. In 2016, 114,437 Thai nationals departed for work abroad, with 13 percent migrating to another ASEAN country (ILO, 2017).

Despite transitioning from being a net sending to a net receiving country during the 1990s, Thailand’s labour migration governance framework has remained largely ad hoc. In 2002 and 2003, the Royal Thai Government signed Memoranda of Understandings (MOUs) on employment cooperation with the governments of Cambodia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) and Myanmar, which established a channel for regular labour migration to Thailand from neighbouring countries. However, only a small proportion of migrants enter Thailand through the MOU process due to the complicated, lengthy and expensive procedures involved. In 2015 and 2016, Thailand revised the MOUs to broaden cooperation on labour issues, including skills development and social protection, and signed a new agreement with Viet Nam.

Because of the problems with the effectiveness of the MOU process, the vast majority of migrant workers continue to enter Thailand through irregular channels. Cabinet resolutions on registration have been used as the legislative means to manage these workers, granting them short-term amnesty on a semi-annual basis. These registrations do not grant full legal status to migrants, in essence allowing employers to request a temporary reprieve from deportation. Completion of a lengthy and complex nationality verification process allows registered migrant workers to receive a temporary passport or certificate of identity from countries of origin and provides access to social security benefits (excluding several informal sectors of employment such as domestic work) and other rights.

Regardless of their legal status, many migrant workers remain vulnerable to exploitation in Thailand. In recent years, increasing reports of forced labour and other unacceptable forms of work, particularly in the fishing sector, have been met with concern from the international community.

For further information please contact:

Mrs. Kuanruthai Siripatthanakosol
National Project Coordinator (NPC) for Thailand
Tel.: +662 288 1354
Email: kuanruthai@ilo.org