After Thai Floods, Flow of Migrant Labor Soars

Thailand’s ongoing recovery efforts from recent flooding have led to a resurgence in the country’s demand for labor, resulting in a record number of Cambo­di­an migrants crossing the border in search of work, officials and experts said yesterday.

Ouk Keorattanak, Banteay Meanchey provincial deputy administration chief, said that last week about 1,000 Cambodians passed through the Poipet border checkpoint every day.

“Last week, border police at the checkpoint noticed that about 1,000 Cambodian people crossed the border daily to work in Thai­land,” he said, adding that normally these numbers vary between 200 and 300 migrants. “It is the first time that such a huge number has crossed the border to work,” Mr. Keorattanak said.

Thai labor demand has recovered strongly after the floods—which devastated large swathes of the country—receded, and Thai factories have reopened. But there are concerns that many of those crossing the border will enter into informal channels of the Thai labor market.

“We are concerned that people work as illegal migrants and do risky jobs,” Mr. Keorattanak said.

Jenna Holiday, an independent consultant who recently authored a study on Cambodian labor migration, said she had heard that Thai demand for cheap, unskilled labor had increased due to large-scale rehabilitation work on flood-affected infrastructure and buildings in Bangkok and other parts of the country.

“In rebuilding Thailand, people will not be wanting to offer long term contracts, so informal work would be ideal for that,” she said. “I would imagine that there is a lot of work for informal migrants.”

Soum Chankea, Banteay Meanchey provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said many of the recent migrants had entered Thailand without a working visa and would find work in the informal labor sector, where they are vulnerable to poor working conditions and exploitation.

“We are very concerned about the crowds of people who returned to work in Thailand recently, because some have only a [one day] border pass and no visa,” he said.

There has also been a rise in the number of Cambodian migrants passing through the numerous illegal corridors on the Cambodian-Thai border.

“At the illegal corridor, there has also been an increase [in labor migration], but less than the increase at the checkpoint,” said Mam Vuthy, director of the Independent Democratic Informal Economy Association, a NGO based in Poipet City. “People going through the corridor face a higher risk because they go through with the help of [illegal] brokers.”

Hundreds of thousands of Cambodians enter Thailand every year in search of work, driven by a lack of rural labor demand and limited job opportunities for the 300,000 young Cambodians who are estimated to enter the labor market annually.

About 200,000 Cambodians are estimated to be currently working informally in Thailand, according to an August study by the Asia Foundation, while government figures found that in 2009-2010 about 19,000 Cambodians held formal employment there.

Many of those who work in the informal labor sector are at risk of being trafficked into sectors such as the Thai fishing industry, where forced labor, physical abuse and exploitation are common.

Moeun Tola, head of the Community Legal Education Center’s labor program, said the surge in labor migration demonstrated the need for Cambodia to negotiate a new bilateral agreement with Thailand that would better regulate Cambodian migrant labor and protect its workers from exploitation and abuse.

“The two governments should talk together seriously and create [an agreement]… to put in place conditions to reduce risks,” he said.


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