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Thailand fears for economy amid migrant worker exodus

More than 200,000 Cambodian workers have fled Thailand amid worries about a crackdown on foreign labour. This mass exodus of migrant workers is threatening Thailand's labour-intensive industries and could damage the Thai economy.

BANGKOK: More than 200,000 Cambodian workers have fled Thailand amid worries about a crackdown on foreign labour.

This mass exodus of migrant workers is threatening Thailand's labour-intensive industries and could damage the Thai economy.

Some construction sites in Bangkok have been left idle because of the sudden mass departure of Cambodian workers over the past two weeks.

With the exodus, the Thai property industry is now coming to terms with this short-term loss of manpower.

But Thailand's former finance minister worries about a greater impact on the economy.

Thirachai Phuvanatnarunubala said: "Even though the amount of labour cost involved with the Cambodian workers in this respect is only a tiny amount, the problem is… when this has effect on stalling the progress of construction projects."

The Thai military government has moved quickly to seek cooperation with neighbouring Cambodia.

It wants to stem the flow of migrant workers leaving the country in order to minimise the short-term impact on the economy.

The Thai government’s acting spokesperson Yongyuth Mayalarp said: "We have been instructing all the officials that at the moment as there may be a lot of worries and concerns of these migrant workers and it is important to make them understand what's going on. We asked the employers to do so as well."

The government said they are looking to improve regulation on migrant labourers working in Thailand and they are also seeking help from businesses.

Property developer Dee Saubhayana said: "The authority is doing the right thing trying to make people get the right (work) permit. I think as a developer I see that as a positive sign but, at the same time, hopefully this can be done quickly."

While it is unclear what new measures will be introduced to improve state foreign labour policy, the mass exodus of Cambodian migrant workers has revealed the shortcomings of the existing arrangements and regulations.

Thirachai said: "The long-term need is to make sure that this is a two-way streak - Thailand benefiting from foreign workers but at the same time, trying to give foreign workers a fair deal. This will remain a big challenge for Thailand in the future."

The mass exodus of Cambodian migrant workers shows the lack of clarity in Thailand's existing foreign labour policy, which paves the way for abuses and exploitation of migrant workers.  

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