60,000 migrant workers flee Thailand due to new labour laws
BANGKOK: Tens of thousands of workers have fled Thailand, most of them for homes in neighbouring Myanmar, immigration officials said yesterday, after new labour regulations adopted by the military government sparked fear and panic among the migrant community.
Millions of workers from poor neighbours, such as Cambodia and Myanmar, form the backbone of Thailand's manual labour force, with industries such as the multi-billion-dollar seafood business heavily reliant on foreign workers.
Since taking power in a 2014 coup, Thailand's ruling junta has attained varying degrees of success in campaigns to regulate the foreign workforce, spurred partly by media reports that unregulated workers faced exploitation by employers.
About 60,000 workers left between June 23 and 28, and the number has risen since, an Immigration Bureau official said.
"They were of all nationalities, but the biggest group was from Myanmar," Deputy Commissioner Pornchai Kuntee said.
"They are probably very scared."
Following news of the exodus, Thailand last Friday promised a 120-day delay in enforcing parts of the decree, including fines that can range up to 800,000 baht (S$32,500) for employers who hire unregistered foreign workers without permits.
Thai government trucks have been taking workers to the Myanmar town of Myawaddy,across the Thai town of Mae Sot, to be handed to local authorities, a Myanmar official said.
It was unclear if they were leaving Thailand voluntarily.
Since June 29, more than 16,000 people have returned home, said Myanmar's labour ministry official Aung Htay Win. - REUTERS