Thailand: Campaigning for minimum wages - Contribution by MAP Foundation
Minimum wages, Living wages: A wage to have a good life on Workers in Thailand were earlier this year promised a significant raise to the minimum wage. From a mere 5US$ a day, the current government’s election promise was to increase that to 10US$ a day equally in every province. But the promise has not yet been fulfilled and workers are still surviving on a wage which barely covers a workers’ daily needs let alone the needs of their dependents or any security for the future. Migrant workers earn even less, often only getting half the current minimum wage, thus surviving on 2-3 US$ a day. We are sure many listeners have been to Thailand and know that it is cheap to live compared to the US or Europe, but nevertheless, it is not THAT cheap. A tourist would have spent the equivalent to a migrant workers daily wage before 9am with their first cup of coffee in the morning. A local office worker would have spent it by 2pm, with their noodles and papaya salad. There are an estimated three million migrant workers in Thailand, the vast majority coming from Burma, with a smaller number coming from Cambodia and Lao PDR. Having entered Thailand without documents, Thailand charged migrants around 120US$ a year to register in an amnesty which allowed them to work while awaiting deportation and was then renewed each year. In the last couple of years, migrants are being pressured to become even more regulated and obtain a temporary passport from their country of origin. This process is even more expensive, often costing a migrant 300US$ - US$500 and it has unfortunately not resulted in the migrants getting any greater protection or being paid the full minimum wage. Indeed, migrants who have been caught in the floods in Thailand which were several meters deep and lasted for over six weeks, are now facing charges for overstaying their visas. Many industrial parks were completely underwater during the floods as were the immigration offices. The employers who confiscate the documents of the migrants could not get to the immigration offices. But now, they are being told they have overstayed and as the overstay fee is 16US$ a day, they are being fined 500US$. A fine they cannot of course afford to pay. The choices available to them: to go home, to throw away their passports and work illegally, or to go into debt and work for over 4 months just to pay off the cost of having stayed during the floods. The Thai Labour Solidarity Committee in Thailand calculates that a real living wage in Thailand would be around 20US$ a day. This would be a wage which workers could live on, could support immediate members of their family and have some future security. Thailand has a growing social security system which requires employers, employees and government to contribute to the fund which then provides free health care, compensation in case of occupational injuries, funeral costs and support for the family of the deceased worker, unemployment benefits and a pension. Migrants are now required to participate in this system, which generally provides a good social safety net, but which remains to be tested for non-Thai citizens who cannot be in the country if they don’t have work and who therefore will be excluded from unemployment and pensions. Migrant workers thoroughly support the Thai workers campaign for a living wage while still campaigning every day for implementation of the mimimum wage for migrant workers. According to the law, any worker who is classified as a worker according to the Labour Protection Act is entitled to the minimum wage, regardless of their immigration status. But as we said before, most migrants receive much less. Migrants campaign by refusing to passively accept less than the minimum wage. Our organisation, MAP Foundation, supports migrants who want to take legal action against employers who break the law by paying less than the minimum wage. Thousands of workers enter into negotiations with their employers every year after having received information and training on their rights. Migrant workers have organised themselves into associations which then provide para legal support to other migrants. It is a long and rough road. Even when a worker makes an official complaint, the wages owed are calculated on the minimum wage and then a process of negotiation downwards starts. So even if a worker goes through the legal system, they still end up with less than the minimum wage. There is thus little incentive for an employer to pay the minimum wage. A living wage seems like a dream for migrant workers, but they keep fighting, for the minimum wage and for the living wage. All workers need a wage which they can have a good life on, not just a wage that they can live on.