The national daily minimum wage nationwide remained at 300 baht ($9.00) following significant increases of between 40 and 80 percent in nominal terms in 2013 at the province level. The government last calculated the official poverty line in 2011 at 2,422 baht ($73) 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 to work 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. By law employers may not change employment conditions without the employee’s consent, unless the changes are beneficial to the employee.
The law requires safe and healthy workplaces, including for home-based businesses, and prohibit pregnant women and children under age 15 from working in hazardous conditions (as detailed in ministerial regulations). Workers do not have the right to remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. 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.
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 minimum wage and social security system does not apply to workers in informal sector and seasonal types of work such as agriculture, fishing, etc.
The Ministry of Labor is responsible for verifying 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 latest year for which such data are available, the ministry employed approximately 600 inspectors for an estimated 356,900 workplaces.
It inspected 48,749 workplaces employing 2.1 million workers during 2013, according to ministry statistics, and found 465 workplaces that failed to comply with labor protection laws. Employers are subject to fines up to 100,000 baht ($3,000) and/or imprisonment up to six months for minimum wage noncompliance, but enforcement was mixed. The maximum sentence for violations of occupational safety and health regulations is one year’s imprisonment and fines not exceeding 400,000 baht ($12,000). Limited resources, 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, the ministry in 2013 inspected 17,672 workplaces employing 1.5 million workers and found 974 workplaces (6 percent) that failed to comply with health and safety regulations. Most of these involved machines, cranes and boilers, health checkups, 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, mining, electricity gas and water supply, and agriculture. While the majority of violations were resolved after the department issued orders to companies to make amends, there were at least 220 legal actions filed by labor inspectors after the employer failed to make amends or pay the required fine.
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 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.
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. Labor protections also apply to undocumented workers, but many employers did not provide minimum wage to unskilled and semiskilled undocumented migrant workers.
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 May approximately 1.5 million migrant worked legally in the country. In July the government streamlined the migrant registration process and reduced fees to encourage undocumented migrants and their children to register through 80 OSCCs throughout the country.
During July and August, approximately 898,825 undocumented migrant workers and 50,820 dependents (children under age 15) registered under the system. Registered migrant workers and their dependents can work and live legally in the country and have access to health care under the health insurance scheme until March 2015. Migrants were able to complete the OSCC process in less than half a day and sometimes in as little as one hour, depending upon the number of migrant workers waiting to complete the process. Previously, the registration process required visits to several agencies for a variety of permits and information: a temporary stay permit from Ministry of Interior, a work permit from the Department of Employment, a health check and health insurance from the Ministry of Public Health, and information on employment contract, migrant rights, and protection from the Department of Labor Protection and Welfare and Social Security Office. The government also reduced the fees by eliminating the 2013 repatriation fund contribution of 1,000 baht ($30) per person and reduced the eight-month work permit fee from 1,800 baht ($54) to 900 baht ($27). 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 2.5 to 3.7 million.
The government requires employers in the fishing industry to keep official records of their workers and use standardized employment contracts that clearly outline the wage, working hours, benefits, and welfare while working on board a vessel. Nonetheless, workers in the fishing industry continued to lack access to social security and accident compensation as well as a guaranteed minimum wage. OSCCs incorporated registration for fishing industry workers beginning in July. During July and August, the government registered 42,576 undocumented migrant fishing industry workers at the OSCCs.
The government required recruitment agencies who recruit migrant workers for employment in the country to register with the Department of Employment. As of July, 207 in-bound recruitment agencies had registered with the Department of Employment. There were still no specific regulations to regulate or monitor services and fees of in-bound recruitment agencies and service providers who assist migrant workers through the regularization process.
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.
Despite efforts at regularization, migrant workers, in particular undocumented migrants, did not enjoy many labor protections afforded to citizen 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 commented that the government was able to reduce the number of brokers and amount of informal fees associated regularization process under the OSCC; however, concerns remained over the uncertainty of the nationality verification process, which requires cooperation between the government and neighboring countries, and the lack of long-term migration policy.
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.
Exploitative local labor supply agencies persisted in charging 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 ($15,000). 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 due to workers’ unwillingness to provide information regarding underground recruitment fees. The department filed 155 criminal charges against illegal recruitment agents or brokers. It also revoked the license of two recruitment agencies, suspended the license of four recruitment agencies, and filed criminal charges against nine recruitment agencies. The department also reported negotiating with the governments of Israel and South Korea to reduce the expenses and recruitment fees for citizen migrant workers.
During 2013 there were 111,894 reported incidents of diseases and injuries from workplace accidents, including 76,776 minor injuries (resulting in no more than three days’ work missed) and 35,118 injuries 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 were rarely diagnosed or compensated, and few doctors or clinics specialized in them. Migrant workers and their dependents in 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 continued to be lax. In the informal sector, health and safety protections continued to be substandard.