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Message-ID: <199801212032.MAA16930@fraser.sfu.ca>
Date: Wed, 21 Jan 1998 12:32:29 -0800
Reply-To: Forum on Labor in the Global Economy <LABOR-L@YORKU.CA>
Sender: Forum on Labor in the Global Economy <LABOR-L@YORKU.CA>
From: Sid Shniad <shniad@SFU.CA>
Subject: Thailand kicking out foreign workers
Comments: To: Progressive Economists' Network <pen-l@galaxy.csuchico.edu>

Thailand expels foreign workers to open up jobs

By Alex Spillius, The Daily Telegraph, 20 January 1998

Bangkok - Thailand and Malaysia are planning to repatriate up to two million illegal foreign workers to safeguard jobs for their own nationals who are unemployed because of the regional financial crisis.

The Thai Prime Minister, Chuan Leekpai, gave his assent yesterday to the first stage of the scheme in which 300,000 aliens will be returned to poorer neighbouring countries in the next six months.

We must repatriate illegal workers to open chances for Thai labourers who have been laid off, he said. Unemployment has increased to 1.8 million, and the labour ministry expects to compensate by returning one million black market workers by the end of 1999.

Labourers from Burma, Cambodia, Bangladesh and, in Malaysia's case, Indonesia were vital to the dramatic transformation of Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur into gleaming cities dominated by sky-scrapers.

On the building sites of Kuala Lumpur, construction workers from Indonesia earned 10 times as much as they could at home.

The migrants also pose a dilemma for South-East Asian neighbours trying to stand together through economic calamity because off-loading workers who cannot find jobs in their own countries creates the potential for social unrest.

The past week has seen four riots in Indonesia as crowds have looted shops where prices for basic foodstuffs have escalated.

However, repatriation is popular domestically as economic nationalism bordering on xenophobia has become a common reaction to the crisis, which has seen currencies depreciate by 300 per cent.

Bangkok also plans to slash the numbers of its 300,000 registered foreign labourers, including 70,000 skilled employees, by refusing to renew their work permits, the Labour Minister, Trairong Suwankhiri, said.

Doubts remain, however, that Thais and Malays would be willing to do the menial jobs that their countries' booms gave them the luxury of rejecting.