The Mekong challenge - employment and protection of migrant workers in Thailand: national laws/practices versus international labour standards?

Examines the relationship between national laws and practices regarding the employment and protection of foreign migrant workers living in Thailand.

Migrant workers can contribute greatly to their home and destination countries, if the process is well managed and if they are protected from abuse and exploitation. In reality, the situation is rendered complex by that fact that many do not enter the destination countries legally. In the market of demand and supply, regrettably many are victims of human smuggling and trafficking. Moreover, influxes of migrant workers who come without the necessary documents, such as visas and work permits, often result in draconian measures such as deportation from the territory of the destination countries, without adequate guarantees for their safety and dignity.

The lesson from Thailand is that to date, a closed door policy on migration from neighbouring countries has not worked, given the porous border and Thailand’s own labour market which acts as a pull factor. Wisely the country is now moving towards a new and more open door policy: managing migration through cooperation between the countries of origin and Thailand as a destination country, and synchronizing with Thailand’s own labour market. In 2005 the country introduced a regularization process based upon registration of migrant workers and their employers, with guarantees for basic rights, and this needs to be supported well in terms of effective implementation and humane treatment of all workers.