The administration of new Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has said that its campaign promise to raise the country’s minimum wage could be realised by October, but any hope for an improvement to salaries for migrant workers remains tentative.
Yingluck, who was officially named premier on Friday last week and who is expected to announce her cabinet within days, said that the country’s minimum wage will rise to 300 Thai baht, almost doubling the current average of 160 baht.
Jarupong Ruangsuwan, secretary-general of Yingluck’s Puea Thai Party, told NNT news recently that the first stage of the policy to raise salaries for public sector workers will be carried out within three months, and the remaining by early next year.
Opposition politicians attacked the policy with claims that it would create a pull factor for more migrants to choose Thailand as their destination for work. More than four million migrants are believed to be working in Thailand, around 80 percent of which are Burmese.
The Thai Chamber of Commerce has also said that it will put pressure on the country’s garment industry, which relies heavily on cheap migrant labour, while denting the prospects for future foreign investment in the country.
Despite existing legislation, however, migrant workers regularly report that they are paid less than the minimum wage, begging the question of whether any improvement to salaries will reach them.
Ko Aye, a Burmese community worker who assists migrants in the Thai border town of Mae Sot, said that while the policy “sounds very delightful for migrant workers”, they are rarely paid the current minimum wage.
He added that more companies may look to exploit the lax enforcement of labour laws surrounded migrants, the majority of whom work in low-skilled industries and often do not enjoy the same workplace conditions as their Thai counterparts.
In April this year a police raid on a garment factory in Bangkok discovered 60 Burmese migrants who had been locked inside, some for up to eight months, and forced to work.
The majority of these had been forced to work on average 16 hours a day and were paid only 200 Thai baht ($US7) a month, something not uncommon in reports given by migrant workers.
A survey carried out recently by the International Labour Organisation exposed high levels of animosity among Thais of migrants. Of 1000 people questioned, 84 percent believed that unauthorised migrants have broken the law, while the majority also say that even authorised migrants “cannot expect the same working conditions as nationals when carrying out the same job”.
In another report last year, the ILO accused the Thai government of breaching international law in its denial of work accident compensation for migrants, despite high rates of workplace injury.