The list is long and varied. The 39 prohibited professions in the updated Alien Employment Act (2008) include labouring work, tour guide and driving a motor vehicle for commercial purposes.
Working in one of these professions is a risky business that can result in cancellation of visas and, according to the Alien Employment Act, leave you liable for a prison term not exceeding five years or a fine of no more than B100,000. You’re also likely to be deported.
Of course, if you are hell-bent on working in one of those professions there are ways around it, considering that you follow the legal and proper process of getting Thai partners, limited ownership of shares and so on.
Reasons for such laws and reserved professions are understandable, especially across Southeast Asia, where education, training and capital funds are often not on the same level as other more developed economies.
Reserved professions, with guaranteed income and revenue for nationals, makes for a level playing field and without them, a sort of economic colonialism would surely occur.
Despite the legal ramifications though, there are also professions that you wouldn’t in your right mind want to get into, such as being a Phuket taxi driver.
This week it was alleged that an Australian national had decided to forego such prohibitions and obvious dangers and find work as a taxi driver, which led to a fracas outside a Patong hotel with real taxi drivers.
The Australian then allegedly pulled a gun – albeit a fake one – on them and was subsequently arrested.
Although The Phuket News cannot condone the Australian’s actions, it does raise an interesting point regarding reserved professions in Thailand.
If Thailand continues to refuse to allow foreigners to work in the 39 reserved professions, how much is exactly going to change from the launch of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015?
Although the ease and mobility of skilled labour in the region will be increased, the number of jobs accessible to non-Thai nationals will not change.
Filipinos, Singaporeans, Myanmarese and other members of ASEAN will still be unable to make hats, lay bricks, or be drivers. So what exactly is the point of the AEC?
Well, there will be many sectors where certain professions will be opened up to ASEAN nationals, including jobs such as doctors, dentists, nurses, engineers, architects, accountants, surveyors and, interestingly, tourism service providers, but there are many that will still remain forbidden.
The basic tenants of capitalism decree that competition is good as it encourages those competing businesses to improve services, which is ultimately good for the consumer.
If one subscribes to this notion, then perhaps Thailand – and all ASEAN countries – would be better served by opening up their job markets to all. Otherwise, integration schemes such as the AEC may end up being mere semantics, which will fail to help the labour supply in sectors that need it the most.