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THE NATION: 980430: Reprieve from


      Reprieve from illegal
      labour purge given

      THE government yesterday postponed for
      one month the planned May Day crackdown
      on illegal immigrant workers for selected
      businesses that rely heavily on their labour. 

      However, on Friday the nationwide action
      will still be taken for all businesses other
      than fishery, which was previously granted
      the privilege, and three more -- rice mills,
      quarries and rubber farms. 

      Deputy Prime Minister Bhichai Rattakul,
      who chairs the committee and presided
      over yesterday's meeting, said the four
      types of business had been given the extra
      one month because there were very few
      Thai workers willing to tolerate the working
      conditions and low pay involved, making
      foreign labour a necessity. 

      ''The problem is that the committee has no
      information from businessmen, so we have
      asked for more time to make a survey,'' he
      said after the end of the committee's

      ''If we take action against illegal workers
      too quickly it could hurt the economy
      because we can't find replacement workers
      in time,'' he added. 

      After the one-month period, Bhichai said a
      thorough, nationwide inspection of the three
      types of business -- other than fishery -- by
      the Labour Ministry and immigration police
      would be needed to determine whether the
      ministry should give them another leniency

      He explained that Labour Minister Trairong
      Suwankhiri would then use his full and
      independent authority to decide on the
      matter, without the need for Cabinet

      Bhichai yesterday dismissed a report that
      the three businesses were given the
      exemption period because they were
      owned by certain politicians. ''There is
      nothing [untoward] behind the committee's
      decision,'' he added. 

      According to Bhichai, more than 191,000
      foreign labourers, mostly Burmese, had
      been sent home since the plan began late
      last year. The government plans to send
      another 300,000, from the estimated total
      of one million nationwide, to their home
      countries by the end of this year. 

      The Cabinet on Tuesday refused to decide
      on the proposed relaxation, saying it did not
      have enough time to consider the idea with
      just two days to go before the first stage of
      repatriations were scheduled to begin. 

      It instead agreed to accept the decision of
      the committee, which would likely
      recommend some alien workers be
      allowed to stay in designated industries
      and provinces for up to one year. 

      ''We have asked for a relaxation of the
      policy for certain occupations and areas
      because we cannot replace those people
      immediately with Thai workers,'' said
      Deputy Labour Minister Jongchai
      Thiangtham, who has supervised the May
      Day operation. 

      Earlier in the day, a group of rice mill
      owners met Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai
      at his residence to ask him to consider
      granting the exemption for their business.
      They also met Bhichai and made the same
      request before the meeting began. 

      The Nation