A worker clambers up a scaffold to fix a sign on a Yaowaraj Road gold shop on Monday. New rules of hiring foreign workers will impact such jobs. (AP photo)
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has instructed the Labour Ministry to come up with urgent measures to soften the impact of the executive decree on foreign workers as the stringent new labour law has raised concern about manpower shortages in some businesses.
Varanon Peetiwan, director-general of the Department of Employment at the Labour Ministry, said Thursday the prime minister has told the ministry to find ways to mitigate the labour law fallout.
Gen Prayut also stressed the need for authorities to avoid exploiting legal loopholes when the law is first enforced to demand benefits from entrepreneurs and foreign workers.
Any officials found guilty of wrongdoing will be severely punished, Mr Varanon said, adding that the government is expediting efforts to limit the negative impact of the new regulation.
Also Thursday, representatives of the Joint Standing Committee on Commerce, Industry and Banking handed a letter to National Legislative Assembly (NLA) president Pornpetch Wichitcholchai seeking solutions to reduce the impact of the new law.
They asked that the government resume registering illegal migrant workers and that the private sector be allowed to offer opinions and feedback on the law to help improve it.
Mr Pornpetch said the executive decree was issued by the government and must be forwarded to the NLA for endorsement. It will become law if it is approved, he said, adding that this will be put on the NLA's agenda next week.
He said the decree may be improved to comply with the government's wishes and that it could include provisional clauses to grant employers or workers temporary reprieves.
Gen Prayut on Thursday chaired a meeting of chiefs of ministerial agencies to lay down labour policies considered urgent, particularly those aimed at tackling human-trafficking problems.
Mr Varanon admitted the executive decree on foreign workers would lead to labour shortages in construction and housekeeping if properly enforced, as well as on small and medium-sized enterprises over the next few months.
As an initial solution, employers can hire Thai workers who have registered to seek jobs, Mr Varanon said, adding that 6,000-7000 Thais register each month.
However, during the early stages of enforcement, employers and foreign workers will be given a temporary reprieve so they can have time to properly comply with the new law.
Employers must arrange for migrant workers to go back to their home countries to seek passports and visas and undergo proper registration and verification processes before they can seek a permit to work here legally, Mr Varanon said.
They can use brokers if they are prepared to pay their fees of around 20,000 baht, he added.
The Labour Ministry has also reached MoUs with Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar to tackle illegal migrant labour -- a process which will take a few months before legally registered workers can come back to work in Thailand, Mr Varanon said.
Thailand has 1.3 million migrant workers who are being allowed to work temporarily without a work permit until March 31 next year. They will have to undergo a verification process before they can seek a permit to work here legally.
The executive decree on the recruitment of foreigners, which took effect on June 23, imposes tougher punishments on those who illegally hire migrant workers or who violate the basic rights of migrant workers.
According to the decree, the aim is to raise the standards of recruitment and management of labour and avoid accusations of abuse or even human trafficking by the international community.
The law contains harsher punishments for both civil and criminal wrongdoing, with fines ranging as high as 400,000-800,000 baht.
The fines are imposed at progressive rates: the more migrant workers the employer has, the higher the fine.
Any migrant workers found guilty of engaging in employment without the proper permit or who does a job that is prohibited will face a maximum jail sentence of five years or a fine of between 2,000 baht and 100,000 baht.
While migrant workers will be sent back to their countries to undergo legal registration, employers who run short of labour can seek help from the Employment Department, which runs a database of Thai workers.
About 6,000-7,000 register with the department each month.
According to Mr Varanon, the executive decree on foreign workers eases regulations on workers changing workplaces, though those who change their employer must notify the department of this and pay a 100-baht fee.
But he insisted the government would no longer register illegally documented migrant workers.
He said the executive decree will not only legalise migrant workers but also help curb public health problems.
Over the past five years, the Public Health Ministry has had to provide medical health services to undocumented migrant workers. Unpaid bills now amount to 8 billion baht, Mr Varanon said.
Once the migrant workers are legalised under the new labour law, they will be covered by the social security system.
The private sector has also cried foul over the new labour law.
Critics say local companies, particularly SMEs, are likely to be hurt by the new executive on foreigners as it could hurt their competitive advantage.
The Thai Chamber of Commerce sent an open letter to the Labour Ministry asking state agencies to seek ways of softening the blow.