In January the national daily minimum wage increased to a nationwide uniform rate of 300 baht ($9), except in seven provinces in which the minimum wage increased to 300 baht ($9) in April 2012. The daily minimum wage is just slightly higher than Thailand national poverty line of 240 baht ($7). The government last calculated the official poverty line in 2011 at 2,422 baht ($76) per month.
The maximum workweek by law is 48 hours, or eight hours a day over six days, with a limit on overtime of 36 hours per week. Employees engaged in “dangerous” work, such as chemical, mining, or other industries involving heavy machinery, may work a maximum of 42 hours per week and are not permitted overtime. Petrochemical industry employees may not work more than 12 hours per day and may work continuously only for a period not exceeding 28 days. According to the Labor Relations Act, employers could not change employment conditions without the employee’s consent, unless the changes are beneficial to the employee.
Legal protections do not apply equally to all sectors. For example, ministerial regulations provide household domestic workers some protections regarding holidays, sick leave, minimum age, and payment of wages, but do not address minimum wage, regular working hours, or maternity leave.
The Occupational Safety, Health, and Environment Act and the Home-based Worker Protection Act that became effective in 2011 impose a maximum sentence of one year’s imprisonment and fines not exceeding 400,000 baht ($12,000) on employers for violations. These acts require safe and healthy workplaces and bring home-based businesses into the formal economy. They also prohibit pregnant women and children under age 15 from working in hazardous conditions (as detailed in ministerial regulations).
Under the Labor Protection Law, the Ministry of Labor is responsible for ensuring that employers adhere to minimum wage requirements in the formal sector, as well as inspecting for working hours, rest time, holiday and sick leave, overtime payment, etc. The ministry also enforces laws related to occupational safety and health. In 2013 the ministry employed approximately 600 inspectors for an estimated 358,639 workplaces. Labor inspectors had limited resources, and NGOs noted concerns about the practice of giving advance warning of planned labor inspections.
They inspected 54,104 workplaces employing 2.1 million workers during 2012, according to ministry statistics, and found 689 workplaces that failed to comply with labor protection laws. By law, employers are subject to fines up to 100,000 baht ($3,100) and/or imprisonment up to six months for minimum wage noncompliance, but enforcement was mixed. After the government increased the minimum wage, the Ministry of Labor reported that labor inspectors found an increasing number of violations related to minimum wage noncompliance and delayed payment of wages. From January to September, labor inspectors reported minimum wage noncompliance and delay payment of wages in 1,356 workplaces, an increase from 618 workplaces found in 2012, of which 19 workplaces were subject to fine.
Some formal sector workers nationwide received less than the minimum wage, particularly in rural provinces. Most noncompliant employers were small enterprises with fewer than 50 workers. Such labor protections also apply to undocumented workers, but many employers did not provide minimum wage to unskilled and semiskilled undocumented migrant workers.
On occupational health and safety, the ministry inspected 17,606 workplaces employing 1.6 million workers and found 964 workplaces (6 percent) that failed to comply with health and safety regulations. Most of these involved fire accidents; failure to establish safety committees; and inappropriate levels of heat, light, and noise. According to the Department of Labor Protection and Welfare, the incidence of violations regarding workers’ safety was highest in manufacturing, wholesale and retail trade, construction, hotels, and restaurants. While the majority of violations were resolved after the department issued orders to companies to make amends, there were at least 48 court cases filed by labor inspectors after the employer failed to make amends or pay the required fine.
The government reduced visa fees from 2,000 to 500 baht ($62 to $15) for the next four years to incentivize workers from Laos, Cambodia, and Burma to enter Thailand legally. The government continued its policy of regularizing migrant labor to help decrease the proportion of undocumented workers in its workforce, and thereby reduce migrants’ vulnerability to abuse. As of August, approximately 1.15 million migrant worked legally in the country. While there was no reliable count of irregular migrant workers in the country, governmental and NGO sources estimated the number of both regular and irregular migrant workers to be two to three million.
Authorities instituted new registration procedures for irregular workers from Laos, Cambodia, and Burma and extended the nationality verification program through August, permitting those who register to work and live temporarily in Thailand access to social security and healthcare benefits for two years. After the August deadline, the government allowed migrants who were listed as employees by their employers to temporarily stay and work in Thailand for another year.
The government provided information on the registration process and fees, a hotline for migrant communities, a pamphlet designed to reassure relatives of migrants and border-crossing workers, and a website in Thai and other languages. Some observers noted challenges with accessibility of materials for migrant workers.
In the fishing industry, the government made efforts to address the problem of large numbers of undocumented workers by allowing workers to apply twice annually for one-year residence and work permits. It also required employers to keep official records of their workers, use standardized employment contracts that clearly outline the wage, working hours, benefits, and welfare while working on board a vessel. However, workers in the fishing industry continued to lack access to social security and accident compensation as well as a guaranteed minimum wage. Registration for fishing industry workers began in September, and continued through year-end.
The government required recruitment agencies who recruit migrant workers for employment in the country to register with the Department of Employment, though this requirement was not effectively enforced.
After implementation of the new minimum wage, civil society organizations received complaints from workers, particularly in rural and border areas, that employers failed to comply with the new minimum wage. NGOs also claimed that employers did not respect the 300 baht ($9) minimum wage for migrant workers. There were increased reports of disputes between employers and employees in multinational and export companies due to employer’s demands to change employment conditions or cut down overtime working hours in order to control labor costs in response to the minimum wage increase.
General Motors (Thailand) changed from a five-day to a six-day workweek, which reduced workers’ average hourly wage, even though their total income increased. NXP manufacturing (Thailand) changed the work schedule from 8 hours a day, six days a week to 12 hours a day, four days a week. Both cases led to strikes and subsequent lockouts. Negotiations continued as of September.
Labor brokerage firms use a “contract labor system” under which workers sign an annual contract. By law, businesses must provide contract laborers “fair benefits and welfare without discrimination.” Regardless of whether the contract labor employee was outsourced and collected wages from a separate company, by law the contracting business is the overall employer, and the law requires equal pay and benefits for subcontract and regular employees. Although contract laborers performed the same work as direct-hire workers, employers often paid them less and provided fewer, or no, benefits.
Despite efforts at regularization, migrant workers, in particular undocumented migrants, did not enjoy many labor protections afforded to Thai workers, and remained vulnerable and without recourse under the law. NGOs reported poor working conditions for both documented and undocumented migrants. A substantial number of migrants worked in factories near border-crossing points, where there were frequent reports of labor law violations and few labor inspections. Labor inspectors generally could not speak the languages of migrant workers, which hampered the ability of migrant workers to report violations. The Ministry of Labor reported establishing a center with an interpreter in each of the following 11 provinces with significant migrant-worker populations: Samut Sakhon, Kanchanaburi, Chonburi, Rayong, Chiang Mai, Khon Kaen, Trang, Phuket, Ranong, Songkhla, and Tak. Civil society groups working on migrant rights reported improvements in services due to these efforts.
Observers remained concerned that additional, informal fees imposed during the legalization process, increased the vulnerability of migrant workers to human trafficking and debt bondage. There continued to be reports that companies employing migrant workers made unlawful deductions from migrant worker wages to repay the costs of smuggling, registration, permits, and other costs, both real and fabricated. Workers also reported several other violations by contractors, including failure to pay holiday overtime; provide equipment, uniforms, or adequate drinking water; or pay daily minimum wages for less than eight hours of work. Workers further reported deductions from wages for sick leave absences and bribes to government officials to ignore undocumented workers. The Department of Labor Protection and Welfare continued to assist migrant workers to claim compensation, including illegal deductions from wages, delayed or unpaid wages, unpaid overtime, and legal severance pay.
Exploitative labor supply agencies persisted in charging Thai citizens working overseas large, illegal recruitment fees that frequently equaled their first- and second-year earnings. NGOs noted that local moneylenders, mostly informal, continued to contribute to this practice by offering loans at exorbitant interest rates so workers could pay recruitment fees, some of which were as high as 500,000 baht ($16,000). The Ministry of Labor’s Department of Employment regulations limit the maximum charges for recruitment fees, but effective enforcement of the rules remained difficult and inadequate. The department suspended the licenses of 43 recruitment agencies for violations related to charging excessive recruitment fees (higher than 25 percent of the first month’s salary) or using unregistered recruiters; revoked the license of one such agency; and filed criminal charges against 44 agencies. The department also reported that they negotiated with the government of Israel to reduce the expenses and recruitment fees for Thai migrant workers, starting in June.
During 2012 there were 131,826 reported incidents of diseases and injuries from industrial accidents, including 93,106 minor disabilities (resulting in no more than three days’ work missed) and 38,720 disabilities resulting in more than three days’ work missed (including permanent disabilities and deaths). The rate of incidents occurring in the informal and agricultural sectors and among migrant workers was believed to be higher but underreported. Occupational diseases rarely were diagnosed or compensated, and few doctors or clinics specialized in them. Since August 2012, all migrant workers in formal and informal sector have been eligible to buy health insurance. Some migrant workers, however, did not purchase health insurance because they did not understand their rights due to language barriers, the lack of healthcare personnel, and other factors. Medium and large factories often applied government health and safety standards, but overall enforcement of safety standards continued to be lax. In the informal sector, health and safety protections continued to be substandard.
Redress for workers injured in industrial accidents continued usually to be untimely and insufficient. Court decisions were rare, and few went against management or owners involved in workplace disasters, but isolated cases demonstrated that the courts do have legal authority to compensate injured workers. NGOs continued to report several cases of the government denying accident compensation to registered migrants because they had not passed nationality verification.