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Migrant Labour
July 31, 2007

Authorities prepare to deal with illegal workers
Lao authorities are focusing on improving the system through which Lao workers are sent to work legally in Thailand , to stem the flow of illegal workers arriving there, Vientianne Times reported.

Officials said yesterday that the current system had failed to adequately address the problem of illegal workers, who were still able to cross the border more easily than legal workers, and were cheaper to hire once in Thailand.

Lao authorities have committed to sending more Lao workers to work legally in Thailand next month, following the restructuring of regulations and mechanisms on labour cooperation among relevant sectors to encourage people to use the legal process.

The Deputy Director General of the Labour Department, Mr Thongdeng Singthilath, said on July 30 that a draft for the new system had been sent to the Minister of Labour and Social Welfare for consideration and approval, and would most likely come into effect by next month.

The authorities told their Thai counterpart in January that they had encountered various difficulties in finding enough people willing to work legally in Thailand , and more people were still opting for illegal work.

“From January onwards, we held a number of meetings with mass organisations, particularly trade unions from central and local areas, in relation to training Lao workers in morality, responsibility and working habits to work in factories in Thailand , to avoid any problems,” Mr Thongdeng said.

He said his ministry had also held various meetings with recruitment agencies to reduce fees for workers and encourage more people to use this legal process.

Currently, each person is required to pay a fee of 4.2 million kip (15,000 baht) to work in Thailand through recruitment agencies. “We have to make the legal process easier and cheaper so that more people will want to use this opportunity,” he said.

Thailand has requested 50,000 Lao workers, in accordance with the Memorandum of Understanding signed by the two governments in 2002 in Luang Prabang province. However, to date, Laos has only sent 5,400 people to Thailand to work in factories there. Worse, 10% of the sent workers returned to Laos due to insufficient preparation.

The Director of the Savannakhet Labour and Social Welfare Department, Mr Somphet Inthathilath, said some people wanted to go to Thailand to see the bright lights of Bangkok , and some did not expect the work to be so difficult in a factory.

Critics in Vientiane say labour officials, mass organisations and recruitment agencies need to work harder to cooperate and get the right people to work in factories. Mr Thongdeng said he did not support the idea of Lao women being employed as servants in Thailand , as this left the open to labour and sexual exploitation.

He preferred sending Lao people to work in factories and the agriculture sector, where they would be able to develop skills that they could later use when they returned to Laos .

Mr Thongdeng also said that in general, Thai employers appreciated the character of Lao people, as well as the similarity in language and culture. But their similarities and location also presented challenges for Lao authorities in discouraging illegal migration to Thailand .

A high-level meeting between Laos and Thailand will be held in mid-August, to be chaired by the ministers of labour of the two countries, to discuss labour cooperation and address problems with the current strategy.

Officials said they would conduct public campaigns in local areas to tell villagers of the dangers of working illegally in Thailand , due to the links to human trafficking. Vientianne Times

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