Illegal migrant labour and sex work challenge Thailand’s tourism

Picture courtesy of Lin Kiu, Unsplash

Migrant workers, who have illegally entered Thailand by taking advantage of visa-free privileges, continue to pose a challenge in the country’s tourism sector, particularly within the sex industry. This issue has led to calls from operators for the government to legalise sex work.

A recent confrontation between Filipino transgender women and their Thai counterparts in Soi Sukhumvit 11, Bangkok, has brought this issue to light, with accusations of the Filipino trans women offering sexual services.

Thanet Supornsahasrungsi, the president of the Association of Chon Buri Tourism Federation, acknowledged the persistent problem of foreigners illegally working in the service industry in Pattaya and across Thailand. He noted that these issues often go unnoticed unless crimes or disputes involving these individuals are reported.

Thanet highlighted that Pattaya is a hotspot for illegal foreign labour, housing unskilled workers from Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, India, and the Philippines. Many of these workers, he noted, have a better command of the English language than the local Thai workers.

Thanet believes that the majority of operators would prefer to legally employ local workers and foreign workers with work permits if the process were simpler, to avoid potential penalties. However, the current immigration process is complicated and inconvenient, causing some operators to resort to illegal recruitment.

“With our tourism industry suffering a severe domestic labour shortage following the pandemic, the government should relax regulations regarding the employment of foreign workers. We still need them to sustain our industry.”

Illegal labour

Thanet also noted that present regulations require operators to pay some nationalities, such as Filipinos, a wage that is two to three times higher than the local market rate. This rule, intended to ensure job availability for locals, should be revised, considering the ongoing labour shortage, to allow for the legal employment of foreign workers.

Additionally, given the active sex work industry in Pattaya, which employs both locals and foreigners, Thanet suggests the government should legalise sex work. Like in certain European countries, this would bring the industry out of the shadows, allowing sex workers to have the same labour rights as other professions and enabling the government to collect tax.

Damrongkieat Pinijkarn, secretary of the Pattaya Entertainment Association, stated that nightlife and entertainment venues in the city conduct thorough checks on their staff’s age and work permit status before hiring. He also noted that authorities frequently inspect these venues to deter the employment of underage and illegal migrant workers.

Pinijkarn added that Pattaya’s reputation has evolved, with the city now offering a wider range of products targeting families, sports, and other recreational activities, shifting away from its previous image of being primarily focused on nightlife and sex tourism.

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Alex Morgan

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