Fears of Foreign Exodus
The National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB) recently released some alarming figures from a study regarding the labour landscape in Thailand over the next 10 years.
Currently, the Thai workforce stands at around 39.1 million people, but the NESDB claims the country will require 46.52 million people to be active in the workforce in the coming decade.
The question is where will all these people come from considering the Thai population is aging, a scenario that is increasingly familiar to the larger Western economies such as the United States, Britain and Australia.
At this stage, foreign workers from neighbouring countries such as Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia are able to fill part of the shortfall, but the NESDB notes that as these economies begin to grow strongly, the lure of Thailand as a place to come and earn a good income diminishes.
The NESDB suggests 5.36 million workers from Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, and even Vietnam could be the figure required to ease the potential shortfall in labour in Thailand.
The problem, of course, is that as these countries’ economies grow as foreign investment comes in and wages start rising, the attraction of leaving to work in a menial job in Thailand, away from family, friends, and community, becomes almost unattractive.
The NESDB study claims the advent of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015 will see demand for labour in Thailand reach 43.26 million people and this will require about 3.9 million foreign workers to fill the expected shortfall.
Currently, the number of registered foreign workers in Thailand stands at 1.4 million, with at least another 300-400,000 unregistered. There is also a large illegal foreign worker presence, estimated at more than 1.2 million people.
As a counterpoint to the NESDB study, the Thailand Development Research Institute suggests the potential foreign labour shortage might not be as drastic as is being projected.
A spokesman for the Institute was quoted as saying that the Thai automotive and electronics industries are “now facing a labour shortage. The severe shortage is unlikely if Thailand has proper training and better management.”
The Institute suggests the nearby neighbours have yet to develop the proper infrastructure which will keep their labourers at home.
While this may be true in 2012, it is quite possible that substantial foreign investment could very quickly redress the infrastructure gap and within four or five years begin to impact on the numbers migrating to find suitable employment in Thailand.