Thailand grapples with surge in illegal foreign workers in tourism


The Labour Ministry of Thailand has expressed worries over the persistent issue of foreigners being unlawfully employed within the country’s tourism sector. Labour Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn revealed that the ministry has been vigilantly tracking the situation and has reported a steady increase in the number of illegal foreign workers. From October 2023 to February 2024, as many as 13,424 foreigners were found to be working in the country without proper legal documentation.

The unsettling trend shows no signs of abating, with the number of illegal foreign workers escalating from 35,258 in fiscal 2022 to 42,520 in fiscal 2023, as indicated by the Employment Department’s records. The 68 year old Phiphat pointed out that many of these individuals were found to be engaged in jobs reserved for Thai citizens, including roles such as tour guides and barbers.

In a bid to curb this illegal employment, the government prosecuted 505 foreigners who were found guilty of working without the necessary permits. The majority of these offenders hailed from neighbouring countries such as Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos, and were most frequently employed as sales clerks, street vendors, construction workers, and barbers.

In addition, Phiphat stated that the ministry has been collaborating with the Immigration Bureau and Commerce Ministry to crack down on businesses run by foreigners. In fiscal 2023, the government scrutinised 42,520 foreign workers across all provinces, resulting in the prosecution of 1,641 individuals.

On a positive note, the ministry is also working on an initiative to elevate the minimum wage in ten key tourism provinces. This move is seen as a proactive measure to boost the industry, which is slowly regaining momentum and is expected to mirror activity levels seen in 2019.

The targeted provinces for this wage increase are Bangkok, Phuket, Chon Buri, Chiang Mai, Surat Thani, Krabi, Songkhla, Phang Nga, Prachuap Khiri Khan, and Rayong.

A comprehensive study was conducted among operators and employees in 950 tourism businesses and venues to determine a suitable wage structure. For larger enterprises with more than 50 employees, between three to five staff were interviewed, while for companies with more than 100 employees, a sample of ten staff members was surveyed.

The tripartite wage committee is set to convene tomorrow to review the findings from the study, with an announcement on the wage hike expected by Songkran.

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