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Labor mobility in Asean

By David Swartzentruber
AseanAffairs   8 July 2010

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When Nobel prize winner, Robert Mundell, Ph.D, now known as the “father of the euro” first conceived the notion of a single-currency common market, a key factor was the mobility of labor.

The concept is that when one country in common market system has a down economy, workers can freely move to another country that is doing economically better and has jobs to offer, Thus, the workers benefit and so does the economy of their new country.

One can clearly see this happening in the EU. When this writer was last in London, it seemed that most of the persons working in restaurants were not voicing an English accent.

Labor mobility came to mind during a recent interview with a company in Thailand, Delta Electronics-Thailand. The Thai economy is doing quite well and there is basically full employment. However, Delta is currently 1,000 employees and will shortly be 3,000 employees short, when new production facilities come online.

Executive director Anusorn Mitteraid was vexed as to what to do to solve the labor shortage.

Although Thailand borders with countries that are not economically as well off as Thailand, namely, Cambodia, Laos and Burma (Myanmar), Mr. Anusorn observed that these workers are mostly unskilled and would not meet Delta’s qualifications.

He also said that Thai students receive a government stipend to attend university and they are less inclined to work to put themselves through school at this time. At least less inclined to work in a factory, as they seek out easier, more lucrative types of employment.

The Asean common market without a common currency is planned to start in 2015 facilitating the movement of labor across borders.

However it appears from the current Thai dilemma that the real challenge in front of several Asean countries is to upgrade the skill level of their workers to make them employable in the 21st century.

This is a story to follow as Asean approaches 2015. Certainly, it is an opportunity for private firms that train workers to be cognizant of Thailand’s current labor shortage and perhaps market their programs to countries in the region such as Laos, Cambodia and Burma (Myanmar).

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