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Burmese on the Burma-Thai border prefer jobs on Phuket

Phuket Still Hungry for Burmese Workforce

Friday, April 24, 2009
PHUKET needs 58,000 more Burmese workers to sustain its construction and fishing industries, a special Parliamentary Commission of Labor was told today.

The number seems extraordinary but Labor Office acting director Penjan Boonson said segments of the island's economy were performing strongly despite the global downturn.

About 29,000 Burmese are registered for work on the island, with untold thousands already working illegally.

The 25-person Parliamentary commision is assessing the labor needs province by province around the country so that assessments can be accurately made of local needs.

Nakarin Yosangrat, president of the Construction Association of Phuket, told the Provinical Hall meeting that island construction companies using illegal labor kept their workers in small camps of around 30 families.

If police raided them, they would not have to pay large fines or lose large numbers of workers.

When discovered, the Burmese are trucked back to the Myanmar-Burma border with Thailand and the construction company is fined.

Construction companies would be prepared to pay tax and insurance and provision for health if the system was regulated to allow for more legal workers, he said.

At present, the quota of Burmese workers for Phuket fails to meet demand, triggering an illegal labor trade that involves people-smuggling.

''I want to sleep well at nights,'' Khun Nakarin said. ''It disturbs me to be told regularly that people have been arrested in raids and trucked back to Burma.''

He said construction on Phuket was increasing, even though it was in retreat elsewhere in Thailand.

''Phuket is vey strong when it comes to construction,'' he said. ''The government plans to bring workers from Isarn or northern provinces to replace the Burmese. Forget it.

''Those Thai workers are good to have, but they all go to Bangkok. Phuket and the Andaman region rely on Burmese.''

He said that if Myanmar-Burma one day closed its borders effectively, the Thai Government would have to go begging for Burmese labor.

Vice Governor Worapot Rattasima said there were so many Burmese workers on the ilsand that at one stage, they had asked the Governor to allow them to have a large concert.

The request was turned down.

Burmese laborers are supposed to be in their camps no later than 8pm each night and under the island's curfew policy, cannot use or own mobile telephones or motorcycles.

The Vice Governor said that Phuket could deal with the issue on its own, with authority to act independently from Bangkok.

The head of the Labor Commission, elected Phuket MP Laywat Areerob, said he would let the Cabinet know about Phuket's perspective and recommend supporting the concept.

The President of the Fisherman's Association of Phuket, Khun Somyot, said 99 percent of the 5000 workers on fishing boats were illegal Burmese, he said.

''Some boat owners have stopped fishing because of the high price of fuel, so the number is lower than it was,'' he said. ''Even small boats needs 15 workers per fishing trip. Most trips last two weeks.

''We need to know early when registration is required, not while workers are out at sea.''

Because of problems with fishermen not turning up for work, the Burmese presented the most effective option.

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