Representatives of Thailand’s business associations in the frozen food, processed food and parawood furniture industries have met minister of labour Somsak Thepsutin Wednesday, to plead for a resolution to the problem of extending the stay of foreign workers without registration papers, the Thai News Service reported.

Twenty thousand more foreign workers are needed urgently, ‘right now’, according to Wilai Kiasrichart, president of the Processed Food Manufacturers Association and a director of the Thai Frozen Food Association.

Food processors need the labour now. Without it, Wilai said, Thai exporters won’t be able to compete with other countries with abundant labour–such as Indonesia, Vietnam and China.” she said.

Agro-industries and fisheries sectors generate income of at least 400bn baht (US9.78bn) to the Thai economy, according to Wilai. With adequate labour supply, Thailand’s export potentials can be better realised.

Responding to the plea, Somsak said the final decision to allow migrant workers who failed to register within the official deadline rested with the Prime Minister. The issue also involved the Interior Ministry. In order to find a solution, he needed to consult the Prime Minister who can have the final say.

Wilai said the food and fisheries sectors are suffering an acute shortage of labour–when they are struggling to cope with an influx of export orders for the final quarter of the year. These sectors require at least 20,000 workers to be able to fulfil export orders. Labour shortage will have an impact on the economy.

“It is true that industries are employing illegal labour, though this is not something we want. We prefer to use Thai workers but they won’t do such work. We want to be law-abiding, and we want the provincial governors to deal with this problem,” said Wilai.