Not only the outbreak of Covid-19 since January, the government's pandemic management itself has also created difficulties for workers. It was started by the announcement of emergency decree effective from 26 March - 30 April 202, followed by the lockdown of various provinces. The measures have led to the closedown of various types of businesses in service and tourism sectors. Traveling has also been limited to keep people home. These measures have drastically caused decreasing income of workers, such as freelance workers, informal workers, and factory workers.
Committing suicide has been the worst outcome of the ordeal of people affected by the measures mentioned above. Among the people suffered severely have been outsourced workers who have poor conditions of employment; such as female security guard, female aviation worker, female cleaner of a restaurant in a shopping mall and male unemployed, and so on.
Generally, there is a group of workers who work for well-being of communities such as health workers, cleaners, waste collectors, security guards, transport workers, retailers, food delivers and so on. We can call them essential workers. Their working conditions during the pandemic have changed, but their employment has remained the same. In some cases, these essential works have been unable to take leave to reduce the risk of contracting the virus. This kind of leave is called administration leave. Therefore, they have used vacation leave instead. In many cases, they lost benefits, i.e. transport workers were detained for 14 days because they have delivered fruits across the border, but they were not members of Social Security System (SSS) simply because the employers have evaded the law, despite the fact that they were regular employees. They have lost basic rights. And in some cases, they have been employed as outsourced or subcontract workers, the contracts of which can be easily terminated as when the employers would like to save costs.
During Covid-19 outbreak, subcontract workers or contract workers despite being members of SSS, they still have had the risk of losing their jobs. Their contracts were temporary and had less benefit than regular workers and directly employed workers. The employers were able to cancel their contracts, after the period of contract ends and before, even though it is illegal. This group of workers has been left without income. For example, in April of this year, the number of 1,119 contract workers were officially laid off by the Mitsubishi Electric Factory; as well as 300 contract workers of Nissan.
Security guards as precarious workers
The author began to interview essential workers to survey working conditions of security guards. Security guards are commonly hired full-time. Their working hour often automatically includes overtime. They may resemble the police in uniform as their work is considered police assistant to take care of peace and order of communities or private business due to the business security law.
According to the interview, there are two types of shifts: eight-hour and twelve- hour shifts. And they are employed by private security contractors or public organization. (War Veteran Organization of Thailand). They commonly have one day-off a week, so they work for 72 hours a week.
Working 12-hour shift is considered hard for women and young people as they have to stand guard almost all the time. The private security contractor deducts their salary and OT pay for other expenses as uniform and equipment. This is not legal by labour protection law. In addition, their employment is precarious as shown by the following interview:
1. Mr. Songkran, aged 42 years, a supermarket security guard in Bangkok
Since the outbreak of coronavirus, Songkran has been working from 09:00 to 21:00 hrs., for total12 hours a day. He works for 6 days a week and have one day off. There are two shifts: morning and night. There were previously 3 shifts. There is no dismissal even if some checkpoints of the supermarket have been reduced for some areas of department store where the supermarket situates have been closed down.
His daily wage is 450 baht (14 USD), including over time. During covid-19 outbreak, his income reduces. His income before Covid-19 was about 15,000 baht (480 USD), but now it is around12,000-13,000 baht (385-417 USD). If he works on public holiday, he will get double pay. His private security agency deducts certain kinds of expenses, i.e. 300 baht for a security uniform. If you are new employee, your salary will be deducted for 3 uniforms, excluding security equipment such as blackjack; 2,000 baht is also deducted for damages insurance. He would pay gradually for10 months, 200 baht each. He has to work for over 3 months to get the refund. If he comes to work late for1 minute, it is equal to 1 hour and he will be fined. He would like a pay rise to 470 baht to be equal to other branches.
In terms of living costs, Songkran pays for monthly house rental 1,500 baht. He lives with his wife. They mostly cook food to save costs. Food cost is about 5,000 baht per month. His wife sells fried chicken. Before moving to Bangkok, he used to be a security guard in other provinces. He resigned because a security contractor deducted his salary too much. Sick leave with a medical certificate was also deducted.
His work is standing guard almost all the time, taking turns with his colleagues to have lunch and short break. He has to clear things at 20.00 hrs. such as inspecting and closing the doors; checking people left over, and so on. If there is property lost or harm, he must notify his leader and the police station respectively. Due to his working record, he has never been physically assaulted or nothing bad happened to him.
Women when standing for a long time would have leg pain and back pain, he said. However, there are nursing room and nurse. The number of female security guards is more than 50% because they have to interact with customers. Male guards will keep watching the surrounding areas. In terms of qualifications of security guard, they have to complete the ninth grade and not to be over 45 years old. They must be trained as security guard to obtain a license. Training cost is about 1,600 baht and security license is 1,000 baht. All expenses must be paid by themselves. They are also retrained every 3 years to comply with the security business law.
Security guards are contract workers employed by a private security contractor who wins bids from private employer or government agency. And if the owner of supermarket pays for the security service contract 690 baht per one security guard, then the contractor will deduct a percentage of this amount and pay 450 baht/ person. The important thing is when property lost or destroyed, security guard has to pay all damages.
2. Mr. Anusorn Security, aged 53 years, security guard of a bank in Bangkok
Anusorn has been working at the bank for 8 years. He has been a security guard since he was21 years old. His present monthly income is around14,000 baht or 343 baht per day. He works for8 hours a day. His bonus is 1 month equal to one month salary. Rental fee is1,800 baht per month. His wife is working for a child care center in another area. He has 2 children.
His current expense is equal to income because his car is broken and often gets repaired. He is not affected by Covid-19. He is healthy, but sometimes has high blood pressure. When he is 60years old, he will retire and receive about200,000 baht of pension from Social Security System. He works from 11.00 a.m. to 19.00hrs. He has to be retrained every year. His security company deducts his salary for his uniform. There is no deduction if he comes to work late. He usually comes before 11 o’clock. He has one day-off on Sunday.
3. Mr. Sathien, aged 53 years, security guard of a real estate, Bangkok
Sathien has been affected by the outbreak of Covid-19.He was unlucky drawn lots to leave together with another colleague in April 2020. His company wanted to reduce personnel costs. He did not receive any compensation as he was ordered to write a resignation letter. He has not registered for unemployment status yet because the human resources of the security company did not give him any advice.
Sathien has just worked here for 1 month, received 9,500 baht (304 USD) per month, a total of 15,000 baht, including OT pay. His salary was deducted for shoes, insurance and social security contribution totally amounted to 1,000 baht. His job was to check safety in the nighttime of the real estate where there are hundred houses by riding his motorbike around different checkpoints. Before that he had been a security guard at a department store for 4 years. Later, he changed to be a cleaner at the same department store for 8 years, but he was dismissed because of his 5-consecutive day sick leave. Currently he is unemployed.
4. Civilian and soldier security guards of a court in Rayong province under the War Veterans Organization of Thailand
Civilians and soldiers receive daily wage of 502.50 baht (16 USD) for 12 working hours. They have holiday once a week. They work less standing guard than those in private companies. They take care of safety of the court. The War Veterans Organization of Thailand hires approximately 20,000 security guards who were former veterans or their relatives, including civilians.
Soldiers’ or former veterans' and civilians' employment are different from each other. Veterans and their relatives receive better benefits such as free medical right, 10,000 baht for child tuition fee per year, emergency loans without interest because it comes from their annual savings, 600-700 baht per year collected by employer, while security guards in private sector have to pay interest. Moreover, civilians do not have rights under the Social Security System, except 30 baht healthcare scheme covering all diseases or they can apply for SSS without employer’s contribution. However, they can reimburse medical cost about 3,500 baht per year. Civilian security guards want to be employed as permanent employees, not daily ones as they could receive the same welfare as soldiers. They are not affected by Covid-19 because they have sufficient virus prevention system.
Checking the labour law and regulation, we found that the basic wage will be calculated along with the minimum wage rate in Bangkok, that is 325 baht/ day. Then 325 baht can be divided by 8 normal working hours so that we can bring the result to calculate OT. We got 40.625 baht/ hour. The overtime pay will come from 1 times (not 1.5 times) of normal working hour, which is 40.625 x 4 = 162.50 baht. In total, the wage is equal to 487.50 baht. (325+162.50)
The War Veterans Organization of Thailand has announced the new minimum wage rate of security personnel nationwide on January 1, 2020. In Bangkok, Nakhon Pathom, Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani, Samut Prakan, Samut Sakhon, the rate would be 331.00 baht/day, if security guards work for 12 hours, they receive 496.50 baht. As for Rayong, 8 hours will get 335.00 baht, 12 hours gets 502.50 baht. They also get paid on holiday, not less than 2 times of their basic wage.
The War Veterans Organization was established to provide employment to former veterans, veteran's family and non-active soldiers according to the War Veterans Organization Act, 1967, to perform security duties in government offices, state enterprises, government agencies, as well as private businesses, and individuals. In the latter, the veteran organization hired non-veterans because security work is in great demand.
What is found in all the interviews is: security guards work long hours, they get low pay, they have few leave days, and their working environment is risky. Many of them suffer from fatigue due to long working hours.
In the author’s view, essential workers should receive more benefits, such as administration leave to reduce the risk of contracting the coronavirus infection, free personal protective equipment, uniform and risk pay, rights protection from the social security system, and job security. The Ministry of Labor should proactively work on examining conditions of employment of this group to protect their basic rights and better their living. Collective bargaining and assembly of security guards should be suggested.
The precarious employment issue is discussed more in Wingspan Services workers’ case in the next interview.