a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The constitution provides that a person shall enjoy the liberty to unite and form an association, cooperative, union, organization, community, or any other group. The law provides for the right of workers in certain private-sector and state-owned enterprises (SOEs) to form and join independent trade unions. The law does not allow migrant workers to organize trade unions. Civil servants may assemble as a group, provided that such assembly does not affect the efficiency of national administration and continuity of public services and does not have a political objective. The law provides for the right of certain workers to bargain collectively with restrictions. The right to conduct legal strikes was suspended due to COVID-19.
By law only workers with the same employer or in the same industry may form a union. Subcontract workers, even if doing the same job as permanent workers in the same factory, may not join the same union because they are classified as belonging to the service industry while fulltime workers come under the manufacturing industry. The inability of subcontract workers and fulltime workers to join the same union limited the unions’ ability to bargain collectively as a larger group. In addition short-term contract workers were less likely to join unions, fearing antiunion retaliation in the form of nonrenewal of their contracts. Labor advocates claimed that many companies hired subcontract workers to undermine unionization efforts. A survey of the auto parts and electronics industries found that more than 45 percent of the workforce consisted of subcontract workers, approximately half on short-term contracts.
The law does not protect union members against antiunion discrimination by employers until their union is registered. To register a union, at least 10 workers must submit their names to the Department of Labor Protection and Welfare. The verification process of vetting the names and employment status with the employer exposed the workers to potential retaliation before registration was complete. Moreover, the law requires that union officials be full-time employees of the company or SOE and prohibits permanent union staff. The law allows one union per SOE. SOEs operated in various sectors of the economy: banking, rail and air transportation, airports, marine ports, and postal services. If an SOE union’s membership falls below 25 percent of the eligible workforce, regulations require dissolution of the union. The law restricts formal links between unions of SOEs and their private-sector counterparts because they are governed by two separate laws.
The law requires unions to have 20 percent membership to bargain collectively. The law allows employees at workplaces without a union to submit collective demands if at least 15 percent of employees are listed as supporting that demand. Employees in private enterprises with more than 50 workers may establish “employee committees” or “welfare committees.” Employee and welfare committees may offer employers suggestions regarding employee benefits and nonfinancial issues and are barred from submitting labor demands or going on strike.
The law prohibits employers from taking adverse actions against workers on these committees and from obstructing committee work. Union leaders often join employee committees to avail themselves of this legal protection.
In May 2020 the minister of labor issued an order prohibiting employer lockouts and employee strikes while the emergency decree to contain the COVID-19 outbreak was in effect. The decree required any labor dispute to be arbitrated by a Labor Relations Committee to maintain public safety and ease industrial relations conflicts during the COVID-19-induced recession. NGOs criticized the order for violating the rights of workers to bargain collectively, while the government and certain union leaders viewed the decree as a means to promote negotiations to find ways to prevent business closures and mass layoffs.
Before its suspension the law provided workers with the right to strike if they notify authorities and employers 24 hours in advance and if the strike does not include a demonstration on public roads. The government may block private-sector strikes with national security implications or with negative repercussions on the population at large. Strikes and lockouts are prohibited at SOEs, and penalties for violations include imprisonment, fines, or both.
The law prohibits termination of employment of legal strikers but permits employers to hire temporary workers or use subcontract workers to replace strikers. The legal requirement to call a general meeting of trade-union members and obtain strike approval from at least 50 percent of union members constrained strike action because many factories use shift workers, making it difficult to attain a quorum.
Labor courts or the Labor Relations Committee can make determinations on complaints of unfair dismissals or labor practices and can require compensation or reinstatement of workers or union leaders with wages and benefits equal to those received prior to dismissal. The Labor Relations Committee consists of representatives of employers, government, and workers groups, and there are associate labor court judges who represent workers and employers.
Noncitizen migrant workers, whether registered or undocumented, do not have the right to form unions or serve as union officials. Migrants can join unions organized and led by Thai citizens. Migrant-worker participation in unions was low due to language barriers, weak understanding of legal rights, frequent changes in employment status, membership fees, restrictive union regulations, and segregation of citizen workers from migrant workers by industry and by zones (particularly in border and coastal areas) as well as due to migrants’ fears of losing their jobs due to their support for a union. Unregistered associations, community-based organizations, and religious groups often represented the interests of migrant workers. In workplaces where most workers were migrants, migrant workers were sometimes elected to the welfare committees and employee committees. NGOs reported few cases, however, where migrant workers’ collective demands were successful in effecting change, particularly along the border areas. For example migrant workers at a chicken-processing factory conducted a work stoppage in March after the factory terminated 32 Cambodian workers in response to their demands for better working conditions.
The law protects employees and union members from criminal or civil liability for participating in negotiations with employers, initiating a strike, organizing a rally, or explaining labor disputes to the public, except where such activities cause reputational harm.
The law does not protect employees and union members from criminal charges for reputational damage, and reputational damage charges have been used to intimidate union members and employees. The law does not prohibit lawsuits intended to censor, intimidate, or silence critics through costly legal defense and these tactics have been used by employers in multiple instances. The law provides some protection to defendants in frivolous libel cases from prosecution and by law a court can dismiss a defamation lawsuit if it is considered dishonest.
Labor law enforcement was inconsistent and sometimes ineffective in protecting workers who participated in union activities. Penalties include imprisonment, a fine, or both and were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights; however, authorities rarely applied penalties against employers found guilty of labor violations.
There were reports of workers dismissed for engaging in union activities, both before and after registration. Rights advocates reported that judges and provincial labor inspectors often attempted to mediate cases, even when labor rights violations requiring penalties had been found. In some cases labor courts ordered workers reinstated, although employers did not always comply with court orders. There were reports from unions and NGOs that employers attempted to negotiate terms of reinstatement after court orders were issued, offering severance packages for voluntary resignation, denying reinstated union leaders access to work, or demoting workers to jobs with lower wages and benefits. In some cases judges awarded compensation in place of reinstatement when employers or employees claimed they could not work together peacefully. Only 34 of 77 provinces had any labor unions.
Unions and NGOs reported that employers used various techniques to weaken labor-union association and collective-bargaining efforts. These included replacing striking workers with subcontractors, which the law permits as long as strikers continue to receive wages; delaying negotiations by failing to show up at Labor Relations Committee meetings or sending nondecision makers to negotiate; threatening union leaders and striking workers; pressuring union leaders and striking workers to resign; dismissing union leaders, ostensibly for business reasons, violation of company rules, or negative attitudes toward the company; prohibiting workers from demonstrating in work zones; inciting violence, then using a court order to clamp down on protests; transferring union leaders to other branches, thus making them ineligible to participate in employee or welfare committees; transferring union leaders and striking workers to different, less desirable positions or stripping them of management authority; and supporting the registration of competing unions to circumvent established unions.
Employers sometimes filed lawsuits against union leaders and strikers for trespass, defamation, and vandalism. Private companies also continued to pursue civil and criminal lawsuits against NGOs and journalists as well as workers (see section 2.a., Libel/Slander Laws). As of August, since 2016 Thammakaset, a poultry farm owner in Lopburi Province, filed at least 39 criminal and civil cases against 14 former employees, labor rights activists, and journalists on various charges such as criminal defamation, theft of timecards, and computer crime.
NGOs and labor advocates reported incidents in which their staff members were followed or threatened by employers after they had been seen advocating for labor rights.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, except in the case of national emergency, war, martial law, or imminent public calamity. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The government did not effectively enforce the law.
In 2019 the government amended the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act for the third time in five years. The new amendment added a separate provision specifically addressing “forced labor or services” and prescribed penalties of up to four years’ imprisonment. More severe penalties can be pursued under the previously existing human trafficking statute or if victims were seriously injured. The government did not complete implementing guidelines for the new forced labor provision, which contributed to a lack of understanding of how to interpret and implement the law.
There were reports forced labor continued in commercial fishing and related industries, garment production, agriculture, manufacturing, domestic work, and street begging. Many workers paid high fees to brokers, recruitment agencies, other others before and after they arrive. Traffickers often used debt-based coercion, deceptive recruitment practices, retention of identity documents and bank cards, illegal wage deductions, physical violence, and other means to subject victims to forced labor. Workers in the seafood processing and fishing sectors increasingly faced forced overtime because of increasing demand for shelf-stable seafood during the pandemic; they also faced unsafe working conditions.
COVID-19 movement restrictions in 2020 and during the year limited the ability of law enforcement to conduct surveillance and compliance activities. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.
While NGOs acknowledged a decline in the most severe forms of labor exploitation in the fishing sector, reports of exploitation and indicators of forced labor persisted, and the number of crewmembers who went missing at sea continued to increase. Some NGOs noted inconsistencies in enforcing labor law continued, particularly for irregular or delayed payment of wages, illegal wage deductions, illegal recruitment fees, withholding of documents, and not providing written contracts in a language that workers understand (see section 7.e.).
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law does not prohibit all of the worst forms of child labor. The law protects children from sex and labor trafficking, and use in illicit activities, but it does not meet the international standard for prohibiting military recruitment of children by nonstate armed groups. The law regulates the employment of children younger than age 18 and prohibits employment of children younger than 15. Children younger than 18 are prohibited from work in any activity involving metalwork, hazardous chemicals, poisonous materials, radiation, extreme temperatures, high noise levels, toxic microorganisms, operation of heavy equipment, and work underground or underwater.
The law also prohibits children younger than 18 from workplaces deemed hazardous, such as slaughterhouses, gambling establishments, places where alcohol is sold, massage parlors, entertainment venues, sea-fishing vessels, and seafood processing establishments. As such, children ages 15 to 17 may legally engage in hazardous “homework” (work assigned by the employer representing an industrial enterprise to a homeworker to be produced or assembled outside of the workplace). The law provides limited coverage to child workers in some informal sectors, such as agriculture, domestic work, and home-based businesses. Self-employed children and children working outside of employment relationships, defined by the existence of an agreement or contract and the exchange of work for pay, are not protected under labor law, but they are protected under laws on child protection and trafficking in persons.
Penalties for violations of the law may include imprisonment or fines. These penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Parents of victims whom the court finds were “driven by unbearable poverty” may be exempt from penalties. The government effectively enforced the law related to the worst forms of child labor but was less effective enforcing laws on the minimum age of work and hazardous work.
In 2020 the government reported a slight increase in the number of labor inspectors and interpreters directly employed by the Ministry of Labor. During the year labor inspections targeted fishing ports and high-risk workplaces, including garment factories, shrimp and seafood processing, poultry and pig farms, auto repair shops, construction sites, and service-sector businesses like restaurants, karaoke bars, hotels, and gas stations; inspections often were based on information received from civil society partners. Labor inspections, however, remained infrequent.
The participation of children in traditional Thai kickboxing “Muay Thai” continued to be an area of concern. Children participating in paid and nonpaid Muay Thai (Thai boxing) competitions are not protected under labor law, and it was unclear whether child-protection legislation sufficiently protects child Muay Thai participants.
Government and private-sector entities used bone-density checks and dental examinations to identify potentially underage job applicants. Such tests, however, were not always conclusive. Labor inspectors used information from civil society to target inspections for child labor and forced labor.
The Department of Labor Protection and Welfare implementing regulations came into force in 2020 related to safety and health in diving work, which set the minimum age for workers employed in diving work at 18 years old.
The Department of Labor Protection and Welfare is the primary agency charged with enforcing child labor law and policies. NGOs reported child labor violations found by the department’s labor inspectors were usually referred to law enforcement officers for further investigation and prosecution. NGOs reported families whose children suffered from trafficking or forced labor received some support, but little support was provided to children found working in violation of other child labor laws (minimum working age, hazardous work limits).
NGOs reported that some children from within the country, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, and ethnic minority communities were working in informal sectors and small businesses, including farming, home-based businesses, restaurants, street vending, auto services, food processing, construction, domestic work, and begging. Some children were forced to work in prostitution, pornography, begging, and the production and trafficking of drugs.
In March the Ministry of Labor signed a memorandum of understanding regarding the prevention and correction of child labor and forced labor with 13 organizations representing the seafood, garment, and sugarcane industries. The main objective of the memorandum was to promote public awareness and create a self-policing system for the industry associations to monitor and eliminate this problem.
The Department of Labor Protection and Welfare reported in 2020 there were 24 criminal litigations for child labor offenses with 50 offenders. Seven of these cases resulted in fines, and the remaining 17 cases were still under investigation or in trial. The most common child labor violations were failing to report the hiring of a laborer between ages 15 and 18, allowing child labor during prohibited hours, hiring children younger than age 15, and letting children work in prohibited workplaces such as gambling halls.
Observers noted several limiting factors in effective enforcement of child-labor law, including insufficient labor inspectors, insufficient interpreters during labor inspections, ineffective inspection procedures (especially in hard-to-reach workplaces like private residences, small family-based business units, farms, and fishing boats), and a lack of official identity documents among young migrant workers from neighboring countries.
Over the past two years, COVID-19 related movement restrictions also limited the ability of labor inspectors to conduct inspections. NGOs also reported insufficient protection for child-labor victims, including lack of legal assistance for claiming compensation and restitution, inadequate protection and counseling mechanisms, and a lack of safe repatriation (especially for migrant children). The NGOs alleged that while there were clear mechanisms for the protection and repatriation of child trafficking victims, there was no such mechanism for child-labor victims. A lack of public understanding of child-labor law and standards was also an important factor.
In 2019 the government published its first national working-children survey, using research methodology in line with international guidelines. This survey was the product of cooperation among the Ministry of Labor, the National Statistical Office, and the ILO. The survey revealed that 3.9 percent of 10.5 million children ages five to 17 were working children, including 1.7 percent who were child laborers (exploited working children) – 1.3 percent in hazardous work and an additional 0.4 percent in nonhazardous work. Most child laborers were doing hazardous work in household or family businesses (55 percent), in the areas of agriculture (56 percent), service trades (23 percent), and manufacturing (20 percent). Boys worked in child labor more than girls, and more than half of child laborers were not in school. Of the top three types of hazardous work that children performed, 22 percent involved lifting heavy loads, 8 percent working in extreme conditions or at night, and 7 percent being exposed to dangerous chemicals and toxins.
Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
Labor law does not specifically prohibit discrimination in the workplace based on race, religion, national origin, color, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation, or HIV status. The law imposes penalties of imprisonment or fines for anyone committing gender or gender-identity discrimination, including in employment decisions. Penalties for gender discrimination were commensurate with those for laws related to civil rights, but the government did not effectively enforce its limited discrimination law. The law requires workplaces with more than 100 employees to hire at least one worker with disabilities for every 100 workers. Women are prohibited from working underground, in mining, or in underwater construction; on scaffolding higher than 33 feet; and in production or transportation of explosive or inflammatory material.
Discrimination with respect to employment occurred against LGBTQI+ persons, women, and migrant workers (see section 7.e.). Government regulations require employers to pay equal wages and benefits for equal work, regardless of gender. Union leaders stated the wage differences for men and women were generally minimal and were mostly due to different skills, duration of employment, and types of jobs, as well as legal requirements which prohibit the employment of women in hazardous work. There were reports many companies intentionally laid off pregnant women during the year.
The police cadet academy does not admit female cadets. This policy was widely criticized both as discriminatory and as damaging the ability of police to identify some labor violations against women.
Discrimination against persons with disabilities occurred in employment, access, and training. In 2020 advocacy groups for the rights of persons with disabilities filed a complaint of embezzlement and illegal deduction of wages from workers with disabilities. In December 2020 the Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases found all defendants guilty and sentenced them to 50 years in prison.
Members of the LGBTQI+ community faced frequent discrimination in the workplace, partly due to common prejudices and a lack of protective law and policies on discrimination. Transgender workers reportedly faced even greater constraints, and their participation in the workforce was often limited to a few professions, such as cosmetology and entertainment.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Wage and Hour Laws:
The minimum wage varies by province; it was above the government-calculated poverty line in all provinces. It does not apply to employees in the public sector, SOEs, domestic work, and seasonal agricultural sectors. Regulations provide household domestic workers some protections regarding leave, minimum age, and payment of wages, but they do not address minimum wage, regular working hours, social security, or maternity leave.
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 the chemical, mining, or other industries involving heavy machinery, can work a maximum of 42 hours per week and cannot work overtime. Petrochemical industry employees cannot work more than 12 hours per day but can work continuously for a maximum period of 28 days.
The law subjects employers to fines and imprisonment for minimum-wage noncompliance. Penalties were commensurate with or greater than those for similar crimes such as fraud. The government did not effectively enforce minimum wage, overtime, and holiday-pay laws in small enterprises, in certain geographic areas (especially rural or border areas), or in certain sectors (especially agriculture, construction, and sea fishing).
The Department of Labor Protection and Welfare enforces laws related to wages, hours of work, labor relations, and occupational safety and health. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and issue orders to employers to comply with the law. If an employer fails to comply with the order within a specified period, inspectors have a duty to refer the case for criminal law enforcement. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance.
The Department of Labor Protection and Welfare issued orders to provincial offices in 2018 prohibiting labor inspectors from settling cases in which workers received wages and benefits less than those required by law; however, there were many reports during the year of minimum-wage noncompliance that went to mediation, where workers settled for owed wages lower than the daily minimum wage, even with violations requiring penalties. NGOs reported contract workers in the public sector received wages below minimum wage.
Trade-union leaders suggested that inspectors should move beyond perfunctory document reviews toward more proactive inspections. Due to the economic impact of COVID-19, union leaders estimated almost one million workers were laid off, and many workers, particularly subcontract workers and migrant workers, were laid off without receiving severance payment or advance notice as required by law.
In March authorities ordered lingerie manufacturer Brilliant Alliance Thai Global, a supplier to Victoria Secret and Lane Bryant, to pay 242 million baht ($7.81 million) in severance pay to 1,200 workers within 30 days or face a criminal lawsuit, for failure to pay severance and wages owed to workers when the factory shut down due to financial losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. As of December the company made no severance payment.
In 2019, labor unions estimated 5 to 10 percent of workers received less than the minimum wage and that the share of workers who received less than minimum wage was likely higher among unregistered migrant workers and in the border region. Unregistered migrant workers rarely sought redress under the law due to their lack of legal status and the fear of losing their livelihood.
Firms also used a “subcontract labor system” under which workers sign a contract with labor brokers. By law businesses must provide subcontract laborers “fair benefits and welfare without discrimination.” Employers, however, often paid subcontract laborers less and provided fewer or no benefits.
Occupational Safety and Health: The law requires safe and healthy workplaces, including for home-based businesses, and provides appropriate industry standard safety guidelines; however, the guidelines were voluntary and could not be enforced. The law prohibits pregnant women and children younger than 18 from working in hazardous conditions. The law also requires employers inform employees regarding hazardous working conditions prior to employment. Workers do not have the right to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.
The law subjects employers to imprisonment and fines for violations of occupational safety and health (OSH) regulations. Penalties were commensurate with or greater than those for similar crimes such as negligence. The numbers of OSH experts and inspections were insufficient, however, with most inspections only taking place in response to complaints. The government did not effectively enforce OSH law.
In 2020 union leaders estimated 20 percent of workplaces, mostly large factories owned by international companies, complied with government OSH standards. Workplace safety instructions as well as training on workplace safety were mostly in Thai, likely contributing to the higher incidence of accidents among migrant workers. Medium and large factories often applied government health and safety standards, but overall enforcement of safety standards was lax, particularly in the informal economy and among smaller businesses. NGOs and union leaders noted that ineffective enforcement was due to insufficient qualified inspectors, an overreliance on document-based inspection (instead of workplace inspection), a lack of protection against retaliation for workers’ complaints, a lack of interpreters, and a failure to impose effective penalties on noncompliant employers.
Ministry of Labor regulations provide for a workers compensation plan covering workplace accidents and injuries; however, the regulations do not cover vendors and domestic workers. Labor-union leaders reported that compensation for work-related illnesses was rarely granted because the connection between the health condition and the workplace was often difficult to prove.
In 2020 (the latest year for which data were available) there were 85,533 reported incidents of accidents or work-related diseases. Of these, 1.9 percent resulted in organ loss, disability, or death. The Social Security Office reported most serious workplace accidents occurred in manufacturing, wholesale retail trade, construction, and transportation. The Social Security Office reported that the number of persons with work-related diseases during the pandemic was controlled through lockdown orders in 2020 and 2021 that encouraged teleworking, limited the number of individuals in offices, and limited interprovincial travel.
The Labor Protection in Fishing Work law for workers in the fisheries required workers to have access to health-care and social security benefits and for certain vessels to provide adequate living conditions for workers. As of September key implementing regulations related to work hours and age limits were still pending. The existing government requirements are for registered migrant fishery workers to buy health insurance and for vessel owners to contribute to the workers’ compensation fund. Fishery migrant workers holding a border pass were eligible for accident compensation. The lack of OSH inspections, first aid kits, and OSH training in the migrant workers’ language, increased the vulnerability of fishery workers.
During the year NGOs reported several cases where the navy rescued fishery workers who had been in accidents at sea. In 2020 NGOs reported there were 106 cases of fishery workers falling overboard from fishing vessels with, and 63 remained “missing” – nearly double the number for 2019. These cases made up 51 percent of total accidents (204) among fishery workers for 2020. An NGO survey found that approximately nine out of 10 foreign migrants working on fishing boats in the country had not had their contract translated or explained in a language they could understand.
Department of Employment regulations limit the maximum charges for recruitment fees, but effective enforcement of the rules was hindered by the lack of documentary evidence regarding underground recruitment, documentation fees, and migration costs. Exploitative employment-service agencies persisted in charging citizens working overseas illegal recruitment fees. NGOs reported that workers would often borrow this money at exorbitant interest rates from informal lenders.
Informal Sector: According to government statistics, 54 percent of the labor force worked in the informal economy in 2020, with limited protection under labor law and the social security system. The country provided universal health care for all citizens and social security and workers’ compensation programs to insure employed persons in cases of injury or illness and to provide maternity, disability, death, child-allowance, unemployment, and retirement benefits. Registered migrant workers in the formal and informal labor sectors and their dependents were also eligible to buy health insurance from the Ministry of Public Health.
NGOs reported that many construction workers, especially subcontracted workers and migrant workers, were not in the social security system or covered under the workers’ compensation program because their employers failed to register them or did not transfer the payments to the social security system.
Workers for mobile delivery applications such as “Grab” and “Line” were not protected under labor laws as they were considered a “partner” as opposed to an employee. During the pandemic demand for delivery workers increased and remained one of the few jobs for low-wage workers.