Labour Activists Claim New Hourly Wage Structure Could Be Used to Further Exploit Employees

Factory Workers

Authorities pushing businesses to adopt an hourly wage structure has prompted concerns among labour activists that employees in some industries will be further exploited, according to a recent seminar on the subject.

As unemployment soars in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, nine million Thais are forecast to lose their jobs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Authorities have been promoted part-time hiring, especially in the service sector.

But employers have been reluctant as part-time jobs involve hourly wages, which are allowed by law only for students and the elderly at the moment.

The law also requires employers to pay a worker no less than the daily minimum wage although he or she may work less than eight hours a day. The daily minimum wage, varying by province, now ranges from 313 to 336 baht.

The seminar in Bangkok last week was organised by the Office of the National Wage Committee with the aim of gauging the views of stakeholders in the labour industry.

A survey held in May shows most small and medium-sized enterprises want more employment flexibility, Suchart Chantaranakaracha, vice-chairman for labour affairs of the Federation of Thai Industries, told attendees.

Veerasu Kaewboonpun, a mem­ber representing employees on the National Wage Committee, agreed, saying that many employers could no longer pay workers daily or monthly because there was not enough work for them.

“We want jobless people to be hired, even hourly, so they can at least make ends meet,” he said.

Yongyuth Chalaemwong from the Thailand Development Research Institute said in principle hourly wages must be higher than the average daily wages.

“Authorities can make it possible by issuing a ministerial announcement,” he said.

He cited as an example the United States, where hourly wages have been used for decades.

He said the minimum hourly wage was set and jobs were grouped into 25 categories. “The wages also vary by business scale,” he added.

Anantachai Uthaipattanacheep, a member representing the government on the National Wage Board, said while daily wages were here to stay, the principle behind hourly wages was that they must be higher by a large margin than the breakdown of the daily wage.

To protect existing employees if employers try to force the hourly wages on them against their will, the rules yet to be announced must take this issue into consideration, he said.

Labour activists are concerned that changes in the law would open the door for employers to take further advantage of workers.

Manit Promkarikun, chairman of the Automobile Labour Congress Of Thailand, said in his experience in the textile, construction and furniture industries, the daily minimum wages were used across the board with no raises even for those working for five to 20 years.

Some employers resort to making contracts for 11 months and renewing them indefinitely to avoid having to pay compensation for long-serving employees entitled to benefits by law if they work for a full 12 months.

“Some employers keep taking advantage of employees so I don’t agree with using hourly wages for industries,” he said.

He suggested ground rules on which industries could use hourly wages or there was a risk that hourly wages would likely creep in across all sectors.

Zia Champa Thong, chairman of the Federation of Textile and Leather Products Labour Unions, agreed.

“Even now, many workers don’t get paid the daily minimum wage. They are also not paid when furloughed during the pandemic despite the law saying they must get at least 75% of their wages,” argued Zia.