The national daily minimum wage remained at 300 baht ($8.40). The government last calculated the official poverty line in 2014 at 2,647 baht ($74) per month. In May the government also announced standard wages for skilled laborers ranging from 340 to 550 baht ($10 to $15) per day. The law on minimum wage does not apply to laborers in seasonal agriculture or domestic work.
The maximum workweek by law is 48 hours, or eight hours per day over six days, with an overtime limit 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 may not work overtime. Petrochemical industry employees may not work more than 12 hours per day and may work continuously for a maximum period of 28 days. By law employers may not change employment conditions without the employee’s consent, unless the changes benefit the employee.
The law requires safe and healthy workplaces, including for home-based businesses, and prohibits pregnant women and children younger than 18 from working in hazardous conditions (as detailed in ministerial regulations). The law allows pregnant women to present a physician’s certificate to request a change of duties both prior to and after delivery. The law also requires the employer to inform employees about hazardous working conditions prior to employment. Workers do not have the right to remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.
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 they do not address minimum wage, regular working hours, or maternity leave. The minimum wage and social security system does not apply to workers in the informal sector and seasonal types of work, such as agriculture. Although the Home Based Worker Protection Act came into force in 2011, the DLPW has not yet issued regulations on wages, working conditions, and prohibited hazardous work for home-based workers.
The DLPW is responsible for verifying that employers adhere to minimum wage requirements in the formal sector as well as inspecting working hours, rest time, holiday and sick leave, and overtime payment. The DLPW also enforces laws related to labor relations and occupational safety and health. The law subjects employers to maximum fines of 100,000 baht ($2,800) and a maximum imprisonment of six months for minimum wage noncompliance, but enforcement was inconsistent. The maximum sentence for conviction of violations of occupational safety and health regulations is one year’s imprisonment and fines of 400,000 baht ($11,200). In 2015 there were approximately 350,961 workplaces employing 8.4 million workers. This estimate did not include informal workplaces, such as family farms and home-based businesses. The DLPW had only 592 labor inspectors nationwide, insufficient to enforce labor laws.
DLPW labor inspectors inspected 44,859 workplaces employing 1.6 million workers during 2015 and found that 663 workplaces failed to comply with labor protection laws. In response, 624 orders were issued, nine employers were subjected to fines, and 30 employers were subjected to criminal charges. Labor inspections took place in various industries but mostly focused on wholesale retail trade (37 percent) and manufacturing (22 percent) with fewer inspections conducted in informal workplaces, such as construction (6 percent) and agriculture (2 percent). Most violations involved failure to pay minimum wage and overtime and holiday pay, failure to provide traditional or annual holidays, failure to provide and announce work rules, and failure to keep records of employee wage payment and hours worked. In 2015 the DLPW received 594 demands from 502,976 employees and 114 labor dispute cases involving 104,654 employees. Limited numbers of inspectors, the practice of interviewing employees at workplace locations, reliance on document-based inspection, and lack of interpreters to accompany inspection teams resulted in ineffective inspections.
On occupational health and safety, in 2015 the DLPW inspected 16,538 workplaces employing 946,621 workers and found that 1,312 workplaces (8 percent) failed to comply with health and safety regulations. Most of these involved failure to establish safety committees; problems with machines, cranes, and boilers; health checkups; and inappropriate levels of heat, light, and noise in construction areas. According to the DLPW, the highest numbers of violations regarding workers’ safety occurred in the manufacturing, wholesale and retail trade, construction, and hotel and restaurant industries. After the department issued orders to companies to make amends, companies resolved the majority of violations, although labor inspectors filed at least 189 legal actions after employers failed to make amends or pay the required fine.
Redress for workers injured in industrial accidents generally was untimely and insufficient. Court decisions were rare, and seldom went against management or owners, but isolated cases demonstrated the courts have legal authority to compensate injured workers. NGOs reported several cases of the government denying accident compensation to registered migrants because they had not passed nationality verification. In September 2015 the Supreme Administrative Court ruled to rescind a regulation issued by the Social Security Office that it deemed set out unlawful practices and discriminatory treatment against migrant workers and their access to the Workmen’s Compensation Fund. The court ruled that registered migrants allowed to work temporarily in the country should be entitled to accident compensation.
Some workers received less than the minimum wage, particularly in rural provinces and in enterprises employing less than 50 workers. Labor unions estimated 30 percent of workers received less than the minimum wage. Labor protections apply to undocumented workers, but many employers did not provide the minimum wage to unskilled and semi-skilled undocumented migrant workers. A large income gap remained between formal and informal employment, with workers in the nonagricultural sector earning an average of three times more than those in the agricultural sector. A reported 55 percent of the labor force worked in the informal economy, including in agriculture, forestry, and fishing, with limited protection under labor laws and the social security system.
While there was no reliable count of illegal migrant workers in the country, government and NGO sources estimated the number of both registered and illegal migrant workers to be 2.5 to 3.9 million.
Despite efforts at regularization and renewal of work permits, migrant workers, in particular undocumented migrants, did not enjoy many labor protections accorded to citizen workers and remained vulnerable and without recourse under the law. NGOs reported poor working conditions for both documented and undocumented migrant workers. A substantial number of migrants worked in factories near border-crossing points, where there were frequent reports of labor law violations. In February the government introduced a policy allowing registered migrant workers to renew their work permits every two years for a maximum of eight years without the need to return to their country of origin. This policy reduced the cost and burden for migrant workers and increased incentives for them to register. The Ministry of Labor hired nine full-time, bilingual telephone hotline operators since 2014. The number of migrant worker calls to these hotlines increased significantly. In 2015 Ministry of Labor hotlines received 105,505 calls, of which 79,494 were from Thai speakers and 26,011 were by non-Thai speakers. Most non-Thai callers sought information on the migrant worker registration process, changing employers or workplaces, and work permit renewals. A limited number of calls were complaints regarding labor law violations.
Companies employing migrant workers reportedly made unlawful deductions from migrant worker wages to repay the costs of cross-border travel, registration, permits, and other expenses. 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 officials to ignore undocumented workers.
The government requires employers in the fishing industry to keep official records of their workers and worker payroll records as well as to use standardized employment contracts that clearly outline the wage, working hours, benefits, and provisions for welfare while working on board a vessel. The 2014 ministerial regulations for sea-fishing vessels requires the income of fishery workers (base salary plus share from profit) to be equal to the national minimum wage. The law also requires rest periods and annual and holiday leave. It further requires employers to take workers to report to the Ministry of Labor at least once per year. Furthermore, the regulation requires employers to pay at least 50 percent of the daily wage during periods when workers are outside the country without work and unable to return to the country. The new law also mandates that employers cover transportation costs to return workers to a recruitment area if their boat was not operational, if workers are unable to work, if the employer alters or terminates the employment contract before the end of the contract, or when the employment contract ends. Nonetheless, workers in the fishing industry lacked access to social security and accident compensation. To strengthen enforcement in the fishing sector, the government established 28 port-in-port-out (PIPO) centers to check documents and monitor and inspect vessels and workers. As of September multidisciplinary teams led by the Royal Thai Navy inspected 13,504 workers on 999 fishing vessels and found wrongdoing on 25 vessels. Of these, authorities subjected 23 employers to administrative orders and penalties and filed lawsuits against two.
The government previously required local agencies that recruit migrant workers to come into the country to register with the Ministry of Labor’s Department of Employment (DOE). As of September, 274 in-bound recruitment agencies had registered with the DOE. The Royal Ordinance on Importation of Foreign Workers to Work in Thailand took effect in August. The law requires employment agents to inform migrant workers of wage and other benefit information. They must also publish service fees at a rate no higher than 25 percent of the first month’s wages. Employers must pay service fees, costs of transportation to and from the home country, and other associated fees. Employment agents must deposit a five million baht ($140,000) “guarantee” fee, which the DOE is to use as a compensation fund for assisting workers, as needed.
Labor brokerage firms used 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.
NGOs noted local moneylenders, mostly informal, offered loans at exorbitant interest rates so citizen workers looking for work abroad could pay recruitment fees, some as high as 500,000 baht ($14,000). DOE regulations limit the maximum charges for recruitment fees, but effective enforcement of the rules remained difficult and inadequate due to workers’ unwillingness to provide information and the lack of legal documentary evidence (loan agreement or written service or lending contract) regarding underground recruitment fees. The DOE regulates in-bound and out-bound recruitment agencies. In 2015 the DOE found bad practices in 10 registered recruitment agencies, subsequently suspending three agencies and filing criminal charges against seven. The DOE also worked with police to investigate 287 complaints from citizen workers employed outside the country. Exploitative employment service agencies persisted in charging citizens working overseas large, illegal recruitment fees that frequently equaled their first- and second-year earnings. Police charged 68 illegal brokers for deceiving people in exchange of money under the Employment and Job-Seeker Protection Act, which allows for a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and/or a maximum fine of 200,000 baht ($5,600).
In 2014, the latest year for which data was available, there were 100,234 reported incidents of diseases and injuries from workplace accidents, including 68,903 minor injuries (resulting in no more than three workdays missed) and 31,331 injuries resulting in more than three workdays missed (including permanent disabilities and deaths). Observers said workplace accidents in the informal and agricultural sectors and among migrant workers were underreported. Employers rarely diagnosed or compensated occupational diseases, and few doctors or clinics specialized in them. Migrant workers and their dependents in both the formal and informal sectors were 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, an insufficient number of health-care personnel, and other factors. Medium and large factories often applied government health and safety standards, but overall enforcement of safety standards was lax. In the informal sector, health and safety protections were substandard.