As reported by Gulf Times on October 17, an agreement is set to be signed this month between Thailand’s labour ministry and officials from Qatar to send no less than 30,000 Thai workers to Qatar to fill labour shortages in Qatar’s busy infrastructure, transport and construction sector. The people are supposed to work in various fields such as architecture and engineering, and the labour brigade would also include technical experts and crew for the country’s flagship airline Qatar Airways.
The move, which has been initiated by Thailand’s labour authorities, is interesting and certainly holds opportunities for some of the workers, but has been perceived with surprise here in Thailand. The plan indicates that Qatar requests skilled or at least semi-skilled workers for its large projects rather than just unskilled helpers, and the question is where to find these people in Thailand.
The Southeast Asian nation has one of the lowest (official) unemployment rates in the world at 0.7% as per the second quarter of 2013. According to latest figures issued by Thailand’s National Economic and Social Development Board, all sectors but manufacturing saw a strong acceleration in employment in the period, with construction absorbing 144,077 jobseekers alone, but demand is still there for these, let alone skilled engineers in the country’s ever-booming building and property sectors. Thailand is not a country dependent on labour export such as the Philippines and risks serious shortages if doing so.
Furthermore, Thailand has just embarked on a $64bn infrastructure push that will include the construction of high-speed railways, new roads and other massive logistics over the next ten years, and labour experts wonder how all these jobs can be done when there is already labour shortage and domestic companies are desperately looking for personnel. Highly-skilled engineers, as a result, receive the highest wages in Thailand, with construction and project managers being paid a median of $6,244 a month, according to latest salary reviews, which is a fortune in Thailand. So why would they choose Qatar when they can have similar conditions at home?
Thus, it seems, the Thai labour ministry’s initiative is possibly rather targeting cement mixers, brick layers and the like, as well as basic service staff who would possibly get paid between $1,000 and $1,500 in Qatar, double what they would receive in Thailand. In turn, to fill the basic vacancies in the country, the Thai government is looking into the possibility to import more Bangladeshi and Myanmar workers, which already causes social tensions in the Thai society which is unaccustomed to labour migrants.
A Qatar job opening might be good for some Thai individuals to earn and save funds, but it doesn’t figure for the Thai labour policy.
Our columnist Dr Arno Maierbrugger is Editor-in-Chief of www.investvine.com, a news portal owned by Inside Investor focusing on Southeast Asian economic topics as well as trade and investment relations between Asean and the GCC. The views expressed are his own.