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Thai Law Insights

Human Rights Violations Regarding Employment of Foreigners in Thailand

Patsaraporn Promkot


Many in the European Union and the USA have complained that Thailand imposes severe criminal punishment on foreigners who do not comply with Thai Work Permit Law and such severe punishments may constitute violations of human rights. For example, the Emergency Decree on Foreign Employment Administration of 2017 ("Work Permit Law") requires that foreigners apply for permission to a competent official to add or change their scope of works or workplaces. Failure to do so may result in a fine of up to THB 100,000, which, some may say, is indeed severe; considering that the foreigner made a good faith effort to apply for and then acquire a valid work permit; they merely failed to report changes in details of their work or workplace. Some may argue that this unnecessarily restricts having valid work permit the freedom to work in Thailand and that the Thai Government should be so excessive in exercising control over their rights, which limits the ease to accept new employment.

In realization that overregulation of foreign employment may have a significant negative effect on the economy and, in fact, runs counter to the government's policy to increase the ease of doing business in Thailand; Thai Government has issued the Emergency Decree on Foreign Employment Administration of 2018 (No.2) effective 28 March 2018 ("Work Permit Law as amended") to amend some key provisions in Work Permit Law. The Decree removes certain provisions in Work Permit Law, including the requirement for an application for permission to add or change the foreigners' scope of works or workplace. Foreigners legally working in Thailand should have the freedom to work anywhere in Thailand and have the rights to perform any work activity, as long as they are not otherwise prohibited by Work Permit Law and any other law. Criminal punishment will no longer be imposed upon foreigners who work beyond the scope of workplace of work stated in their work permit. Now, foreigners are only required to inform their workplace when they commence new work or change their employer.

We discussed this amendment with legal officials at the Department of Employment ("DoE") who was involved in the drafting process of the Work Permit law as amended. They confirmed that upon renewal of a work permit, a foreign worker would need to inform and update the competent official of their new work activities. No separate application would be required to record any change of duties or workplace immediately when that change occurred, as long as they still work for the same employer.

It is clear that the new Decree provides more convenience for foreigners working in Thailand as they will no longer be required to apply for permission each time they add/change their workplace or their scope of works, as long as they still remain with their current employer. Additionally, this may ease some criticism of alleged violation of human rights as it does ease restrictions on a foreigner's right to work and removes a harsh criminal penalty for non-compliance with the law.