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Little cheer for workers on Labour Day

Publication Date : 30-04-2012


Tomorrow brings Labour Day, but for 18-year-old waitress "Nok" and many of her fellow labourers in Thailand, neither the holiday nor the recent introduction of the 300 baht (US$9.7) minimum wage promise to change their lives much.

And on the day all low-income earners enjoy a rare break from work, Nok will be trying to decide whether to give up her restaurant job - which, while low-paying, provides her with meals and a roof over her head - for a new job at an electronics company which would pay her the 300 baht wage, but which she isn't sure will cover rent, utilities and meals.

According to labour leader Chalee Loisung, chairman of the Thai Labour Reconciliation Committee (TLRC), wait staff are the group most taken advantage of by employers in terms of the new 300 baht wage. Most are not paid the full amount, because the value of tips, meals and accommodation are deducted from their wage.

He cited a study claiming that fewer than half the workers in the seven provinces in which the wage hike was initiated have been paid 300 baht since the launch date of April 1, with the problem especially bad at medium-sized plants.

"To avoid violating the [300 baht per day] policy, many plants will turn to paying on a monthly basis…which would result in them equalling the 300-baht-per-day cost, but the payment [on a daily basis] will be made for only 26 days, as actual payment on a daily basis would include weekends," he said.

Nok, who has waited tables at a restaurant in Bangkok's Bang Na for over a year, said the wage hike wouldn't help her. Working from 9.30am to 11.30pm, Nok earned nearly 300 baht a day (150 baht wage plus tips).

The restaurant didn't pay overtime but provided meals and accommodation, she said. The employer hasn't mentioned the 300 baht wage and none have dared complain, as those who had worked there for four or five years still earned less than 300 baht a day. Nok fears that if she takes a factory job paying a 300 baht wage, she may not be able to cover both rent and meals.

Bang Kapi-based housemaid Thawil, 35, has two children attending school, which costs 10,000 baht ($325) a month - a little less than the combined earnings of her and her husband. She eagerly anticipated April 1, hopeful her employer would raise her pay from 220 baht. But the date came and went with no sign of the 300 baht wage, while the cost of living kept rising. She says she won't file a complaint against the employer. "I'm scared they'll fire me."

A Bank of Thailand study, submitted to the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI), suggests the policy could lead to an increase in unemployment in the formal sector of 4.5 per cent, as some 600,000 to 700,000 workers may be laid off as part of manufacturers' adjustment.

Thailand is now one of just a few countries with an unemployment rate of below 1 per cent. The National Statistical Office's unemployment rate was as low as 0.8 per cent in January, reflecting high demand for labour as a whole and shortages in some industries.

Samut Sakhon rubber product workers' union deputy chair Witsanu Maliwan, who worked in a tyre factory for 14 years, said he got a raise to 300 baht, up from 245 baht. But since the hike, the factory has forced staff to work harder and begun much stricter enforcement of rules, including fining those who fail to wear ID cards. The hike is good news for single people, but for sole breadwinners it doesn't help to meet the rising cost of living, he said.

Another Samut Sakhon factory worker, Yanisa Khamchum, said she hadn't received the 300 baht wage as her workplace had been closed since November 2011 due to the flooding. She is one of 535 workers waiting for compensation. Earning 215 baht a day, she said she and most of her co-workers had worked there for over 10 years. She and 27 workers filed a complaint at the Labour Court in January, but the mediation failed on Thursday. The workers would fight on for their jobs and compensation, as they were not young enough to find new jobs.

TLRC chairman Chalee said the prices of goods, power and transportation were soaring. He urged the government to give a temporary 2,000 baht ($65) allowance to all workers for two months, and help workers laid off after the floods to find new jobs and give them another 2,000 baht assistance. The TLRC will this week conduct a cost of living survey and will present the results to the public and the Labour Ministry in May, he said.


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