The calm position espoused in Phuket directly contradicts the strong opposition to the new law voiced late last month by national figures who said that the new laws would devastate smaller businesses.
Earlier this year, Supant Mongkolsuthree, chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries (FTI), said the private sector does not understand why the government has to regulate the share of migrant workers in each company, because there has been a labour shortage for several years.
Low-skilled immigrant workers are ‘vital contributors’ to the country’s economy, said Mr Supant.
“The labour shortage is widespread across the country, pressuring operators to hire migrant workers from neighbouring countries,” he said.
Mr Supant said local SMEs will be most affected by the labour shortage.
There are 3 million SMEs in the country, accounting for 99.7% of businesses, and they employ 11mn people.
SMEs are estimated to hire roughly 10mn migrant workers, both legally and illegally.
“It is very hard for SMEs to seek local labour because most jobs require physical labour, such as waiters, cleaners, construction workers and fishery workers, and migrant workers accept these jobs,” he told the Bangkok Post.
Impact on Hotels
Supawan Tanomkieatipume, President of the Thai Hotels Association (THA), said that if the new labour law is enforced, hotel businesses will be affected severely, especially small and independent hotels, as well as hotels located near borders that hire many foreigners.
The Act is also expected to hurt many restaurants and small businesses as many use migrant workers.
“The new law will not impact five-star hotels because most workers are local people. But restaurants and food stores will suffer as they depend on migrant labour,” Ms Supawan said.
She added that restaurants that hire many foreigners may need to reduce staff to avoid violating the law, but that will be reflected in lower quality service.
In order to protect small- and medium-sized businesses and save registered labourers, THA will soon ask the government to revise the foreign worker cap from 20% to 30% of total staff.
Long-respected Phuket tourism figure Bhuritt Maswongssa, who now holds a position on the Ministry of Tourism and Sports Board, told The Phuket News plainly that foreign workers are very much in demand in the service sector in Phuket.
“Thai people do not want to work in bottom-position jobs, such as stewards, bus boys, gardeners, cleaning staff, and so on, and certainly do not want to work as waiters,” he said.
“When there is this kind of labour shortage we have to hire foreign workers instead. These kinds of jobs Thai people do not want to do. This is because of the Thai education system and social norms. Thai youths want to graduate, and have a high salary. As a result, lower-level work is not sought by undergraduates,” he explained.
“In the hospitality industry most of employers hire foreign workers to do this kind of work. At the same time, higher positions such as reception staff are now also being taken by foreign workers as they build up their language skills in order to communicate with customers. Thai staff may not be as competent,” Mr Bhuritt said.
Daecha Tangsin, owner of the 525-room Ramada Plaza Menam Riverside Bangkok Hotel, earlier this year said the negative impact from the new law will be larger for hotels in tourist destinations.
“Foreign labourers working at hotels in Bangkok are lower in proportion than those in major tourist destinations, like Phuket, where up to half of staff are foreign,” he said.
Yet hotel representative organisations for Phuket outright disagree that major hotels will be affected.
Rangsiman Kingkaew, who serves as a Vice President of Phuket Tourist Association, told The Phuket News, “Most employers who are members of the association always follow the law, so it is not worrisome.
“Previously, we may have been concerned, but the cooperation of members is very good. It is not likely to be an issue. However, it may affect some related businesses. Regardless, all parties should comply with the law,” he said.
Mr Rangsiman also acknowledged the role foreign workers play in Phuket’s labour market.
“There are quite a few in Phuket, especially working in the hospitality industry, and working in both labour-intensive jobs and as skilled workers,” he admitted.
He also later added, “There may be some impact (from the law), but in terms of the supply of foreign workers, it is the businesses that need to adapt to the law.”
While local hotels are downplaying the impact of the new foreign-worker ratio, Phuket Employment Office Director Kattiya Pandech confirmed that there are at least 47,239 migrant workers in Phuket – and that’s just the ones his office has registered.
“How many illegal workers are in Phuket we just don’t know,” he said.
The updated figure became known after a crackdown on migrant workers ordered nationwide saw the period for migrant workers to register close on June 30.
As the deadline passed, Labour Minister Pol Gen Adul Sangsingkeo said that more than 14,000 migrant workers who had still not completed the process faced deportation.
Just days earlier he pointed out, “The operation is focusing on migrants without those working documents first. There is no leniency because the registration deadline was extended twice [March 31 and June 30] to have the workers legalised. Therefore, legal action and repatriation must be brought against undocumented migrants,” he said.
Yet no such crackdown is happening in Phuket, confirmed Phuket Employment Chief Kattiya.
“We are just conducting random checks, and checking with the police in the Kathu and Wichit areas,” he said.
However, Mr Kattiya also confirmed that any employers found to be illegally hiring migrant workers faced heavy penalties under the new law.
Employers face fines of B5,000 to B50,000 per illegal foreign worker, with repeat offences invoking fines of B50,000 to B200,000, or up to one-year imprisonment, per illegal foreign worker found in their employment, Mr Kittiya explained
“And the employer will be banned from hiring any foreign workers for three years,” he said.
Foreign workers caught working illegally in the country face a fine of B5,000 to B50,000, and deportation, he added.
“But since the crackdown was launched, we have found no offences in Phuket,” Mr Kittiya said.