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Thailand

11. Labor Policies and Practices

In 2018, 38.4 million people were in Thailand’s formal labor pool, comprising 58 percent of the total population. Thailand’s official unemployment rates stood at 1.1 percent at the end of 2018, slightly less than 1.2 percent the previous year. Unemployment among youth (15-24 years old) is around 4.8 percent, while the rate is only 0.5 percent for adults over 25 years old. Well over half the labor force (55.3 percent) earns income in the informal sector, including through self-employment and family labor, which limits their access to social welfare programs.

Low fertility rates and an aging population, as well as a skills mismatch, is exacerbating labor shortages in many sectors. Despite provision of 15 years of universal, free education, Thailand continues to suffer from a skills mismatch that impedes innovation and economic growth. Manufacturing firms in Thailand consider the lack of skilled workers a top constraint for further investment and growth. However, as the second-largest economy in ASEAN, Thailand has an agile business sector and a large cohort of educated individuals who could increase productivity in the future. Regional income inequality and labor shortages, particularly in labor-intensive manufacturing, construction, hospitality and service sectors, have attracted millions of migrant workers, mostly from Burma, Cambodia, and Laos. In 2019, the International Organization for Migration estimated Thailand hosts 4.9 million migrant workers, or 13 percent of country’s labor force. Flows of documented migrant workers entering the country through formal work agreements, or “MOUs,” increased by 40 percent over the previous year to 442,726 in 2018. However, about two-thirds of registered migrant workers currently in Thailand initially entered the country through unauthorized channels, often without any primary identity documents from their countries of origin.

In 2018, the Thai government sought to strengthen labor migration management and increase protections for migrant workers by, first, working with neighboring source countries to make it easier for migrant workers to obtain primary identity documents and, second, registering 1.2 million previously undocumented migrant workers. Thailand is the first country in ASEAN to accede to the ILO Forced Labor Protocol (P29) and ILO Work in Fishing Convention (C188). Additional information on migrant workers issues and rights can be found in the U.S. Trafficking in Persons Report, as well as the Labor Rights chapter of the U.S. Human Rights report.

Investment Climate Statements
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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future