Thai traders in Tak province have proposed changes in migrant worker regulations during a meeting with local entrepreneurs in Mae Sot on Wednesday.

Amnat Nantaharn, chairman of the Federation of Thai Industry in Tak province told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that the federation wants to tailor the migrant worker employment system specifically to the needs of Tak province and other border areas in order to boost investment.

“The trend of investment in this area has not increased in the last two years because of confusion over the migrant worker policy, which always changes,” Amnat said.

According to the Mae Sot Labor Department, 143,012 migrant workers have registered in Mae Sot in 2006, though many more work in the area illegally. The agriculture sector and garment factories employ almost exclusively Burmese migrants.

A crucial issue for employers along the border is the creation of a “one-stop” department that will handle all issues related to migrant workers, as well as serve as a temporary shelter for illegal workers that would normally be deported to their home countries as soon as they are arrested.

Amnat said such a center would coordinate with the Thai Immigration Office and take custody of illegal workers. If they wish to work in Thailand, they would be sent to the temporary shelter until traders could be found to hire them.

Thai Labor Minister Somsak Thepsutin responded well to the proposal, according to Amnat, and would push the plan among policy-makers.

Somsak visited Mae Sot in place of caretaker Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who had planned a stop as part of his current tour of northern Thailand but canceled his flight because of bad weather.

Proposed changes to migrant regulations would include a lower registration fee-to discourage illegal workers from moving into central provinces. Also, the plan includes a provision for employers to receive refunds of registration deposits in the event that a worker abandons the employer.

“The proposed plan for migrant workers is good, but it will not solve all the problems,” said Check Gyi of the Mae Sot-based Yaung Chi Oo Burmese Worker’s Association. He added that, under the plan, Thai authorities would only have a limited time in which to find employment for illegal Burmese workers before they would be sent back to Burma. They would simply try to come back, said Check Gyi.

“If the Thai authorities can keep those migrant workers until they find a job [with no threat of deportation] it will be a good way to end the migrant worker problem in Thailand,” Check Gyi said.

Amnat agreed that the proposed plan is a short-term solution, until the Thai and Burmese governments can cooperate in allowing legal employment for Burmese workers crossing the border.