Workers’ situations under the government’s measures to control Covid-19 in Thailand

Patchanee Kumnak | Socialist Workers Thailand | 9 พ.ค. 2563 | อ่านแล้ว 3455 ครั้ง

Workers’ situations under the government’s measures to control Covid-19 in Thailand

Covid-19 started to outbreak in January by Chinese tourists and then by Thai people who traveled back from China and Japan. After that there was a super spreader, i.e. Lumpini boxing stadium in charged by Thai Army hosting the March 6th boxing championship matches. More than 50 people have been confirmed to have COVID-19.

The government consequently announced the state of emergency from March 26 until April 30, 2020, followed by partial lockdown measures of various provinces that led to the closure of businesses, entertainment, events, reduction of public activities, restriction on domestic travel and ban on non-Thai national travelling into the country, so that people have to stay home or work from home.  The partial lockdown of Bangkok city beginning on 22 March and imposing 26 types of businesses to be closed has led to 80,000 thousands Thai migrant workers’ returning to their hometown in various provinces and migrant workers such as about 7,000 Myanmar workers’ returning to their country. Then the government has announced the nationwide night-time curfew beginning on 3 April. The problem occurs when the governors and the government impose the state of emergency and lockdown; they did not sufficiently support workers who are affected from businesses’ close-down.

The above measures have dramatically caused the reduction of workers’ income in general, especially in the private sector, such as self-employed, freelancers, independent contractors, factory workers, urban poor, migrant workers. There are also many lay-offs. There were an additional 140,000 unemployed in March. And now cumulative total 700,000 people who are unable to find jobs. 

Lately, Social Security Office revealed that up to four million formal workers affected by the Covid-19 pandemic were expected to apply for unemployment benefits. And 1.2 million formal workers had registered for unemployment benefits as of 21 April, and 500,000 had been examined and verified.  According to Bangkok Post’s report, the spokeswoman says the office anticipates the number of applicants to soar to between 3 million-4 million if the Covid-19 situation worsens.

Different labour organizations have launched statements to call on the government to improve relief measures at once for all workers because workers pay the higher price for the city lockdown and emergency decree to control Covid-19.

The outbreak of Covid-19

On 8 May 2020, the government’s Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) reported that there were 8 new Covid-19 patients, raising the total to 3,000 in 68 provinces, one more death, and 2,784 recovered. The accumulated death toll now stands at 55. Bangkok still has the highest number of Covid-19 patients at 1,543. All the new cases are related to foreign contacts and illegal foreign immigrants, CCSA said. The lockdown measures are still imposed along Thai borders as well as the mandatory quarantining of all Thais returning from abroad.

The tally of new cases is lower. Because of limited testing, however, the actual number of infections is believed to be higher.

Even if the rate of infections is continuing to fall, people must continue to take precautions for their own protection.  That’s why the government decided on 28 April to extend the state of emergency for another month to 31 May 2020 and maintain the curfew, but ease the lockdown of businesses.

Relief measures for workers to ease the impact of the pandemic

The government has launched financial aid programs to relief grievance of informal and formal workers hit by the pandemic. However, the programs cannot truly help the workers in need.

The cash relief measure of 5,000 baht/month for 3 months (from April to June 2020) for informal workers who are not members of the Social Security Fund under Ministry of Labour such as motorcycle drivers, taxi drivers, small vendors, farmers, and so on, including 5 million self-employed/freelance workers who are members of social security fund, but only nine million people out of 21.7 million who registered are eligible for the 5,000-baht (155 USD) financial aid because the government has set rules and conditions causing many problems.  The government has used a registration website and artificial intelligence to screen applicants. The matrix is considered unfair and delayed distribution of the cash. Hundreds of informal workers, whose applications for 5,000 baht were turned down and delayed, were angry and protested the Ministry of Finance.  Besides, tens of workers committed suicide as they have suffered from starving.

Besides, the matrix limits some occupation groups such as self-employed farmers because the government will launch another one measure to support which the payment of 15,000 baht/family for 9 million households. It is much delayed. One more group which excluded is construction workers. The government claimed that they are still working. As for migrant workers, they are excluded from the cash relief measure despite the fact that many migrant workers stop working.  They do not have sustained income to survive because most of them work informally across Thailand.

The Social Security System (SSS) compensation covers members (about 11 million formal workers such as factory workers) in the event of loss of employment or suspension from work due to the outbreak. Currently, workers in different enterprises are facing job termination without receiving compensation from the employers under the Labor Protection Act. The job termination does not result from force majeure or the pandemic; therefore, the employers must follow the labour law.

In another case, workers are told by their employers to stop working without pay.  Therefore, they have to use the government’s aid program from the SSS. They are eligible to obtain benefits for unemployment compensation due to force majeure from the pandemic in accordance with the new Ministerial Regulation announced in Mid-April.  The measure includes the case that the employers temporarily stopped their business and were ordered by the government to suspend operations for the sake of virus containment. The compensation rate amounts to 62% of the daily wage and the maximum compensation period is capped at 90 days, which labour network considers it unfair because the employers put the burden onto the employees.

The minimum wage or basic salary of the workforce is actually about 10,000 baht per month. It is not sufficient to live on.  They thus work overtime or find extra income in order to have an additional income of about 5,000-10,000 baht.  That’s why the compensation of 62% of the daily wage is not enough. Reducing utility costs and suspending debt measures are too small relief. 

Most recently, the government issued an Emergency Decree authorizing the Ministry of Finance to lend 1 trillion baht. It also ordered ministries to return 10% of the budget to heal and recover economy caused by the outbreak of Covid-19.  Labor network proposed some demands to the government to improve the remedy measures to be fair for all workers, i.e. unemployed formal workers affected by the pandemic should get 100% of the salary and employer must pay as well as the government, not 62% as mentioned above.  Migrant workers must be granted financial aid similar to informal workers. All informal workers must be granted without AI’s process.

Workers should not sacrifice their lives to bankruptcy or death to bring the outbreak under control.  The government must improve the compensation package to cover all workers right now.  Another thing is labour and democracy activists demand no more the state of emergency because workers are starving and the situation of the pandemic is under control.


Workers’ situations

  1. The most venerable group is migrant workers. At least half a million migrant workers in Thailand have been left unemployed as a result of the coronavirus crisis, estimated by the Migrant Working Group (MWG) and they don’t get any financial support from the government.
  2. The second group is informal workers such as freelancers, self-employed, casual workers. They earn day by day, many of them lose more than 70% of income. Their average income among the poor, taxi drivers, street venders, motorcycle drivers, domestic workers, and small business and farms is quite low.
  3. The third group is sex workers. Their work is not legal by law that is not just for them. They are the first group of the government’s order to close down entertainment business. They are not entitled to get 5,000 baht cash relief.
  4. The fourth group is sub-contract workers. They are taking risk to lose jobs. Their contracts are temporary and benefit less than regular workers. The employers cancel their contracts when the period of contract ends. This group is left without income. In April, 1,119 contract workers were officially laid off by the Mitsubishi Electric Factory in Amata Nakorn Industrial Estate in Chon Buri Province. However, they are members of Social Security System.
  5. The fifth group is formal workers or regular workers (11 million) who contribute to Social Security System (SSS) together with their employers and the government. They are taking risk to lose jobs. Nowadays 1.2 million workers registered to unemployment benefit (62% of minimum salary) due to Covid-19. However, the SSS has many requirements those become obstacles of workers to get compensations.  In the case of unemployment compensation, the SSS requires employers who close down businesses to inform SSS before employees will be able to obtain 62% of minimum salary, but many employers ignore it. This causes employees lose their rights.  In the another case, formal workers who contribute to the SSS less than 6 months will not have the right to obtain unemployed compensation from the SSS. As a result, they are left behind. 
  6. Committing suicide of subcontract workers who have poor conditions of employment, such as security woman worker, Wingspan women worker, woman cleaner of a restaurant in a shopping mall (this case is SSS member, she is turned down from 62% of pay) as well as informal workers. Delay and inefficiency in the 5,000-baht cash handout scheme was the cause of suicides.  In addition, due to the government’s imposing of the state of emergency to combat the spread of Covid-19, it causes negative impacts to venerable workers. Many of them are starving and bankrupting. Besides, it drives some people to the point of taking their own lives.
  7. Employers push burdens to workers. Many employers don’t pay employees when they temporarily close down.  According to the section 75 of labour protection law, they must pay 75% of basic salary when they close down the factory due to force majeure from other reasons, not Covid-19. 

Response of the government to the people’s demands

Recently in late April, the government has approved the extension of 5,000-baht cash handout scheme to cover 16 million people instead of the present 14 million and agreed to a proposal to provide financial aid to 10 million farmers (15,000 baht/household) and farmers must register online since 7 May. In addition, students who work part-time will get cash relief the same as informal workers. Total budget of financial aid program is 550,000 million baht.  Another 14 million people will belong to the vulnerable group. They include people eligible to aid for child care, senior citizens eligible for elderly allowances, registered handicapped people and the homeless. They will get 39 billion baht initially from the budget of the Social Development and Human Security Ministry. 





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