Foreign laborers survive in Pattaya’s hidden subculture

Friday, 13 June 2014 From Issue Vol. XXII No. 24 By  Urasin Khantaraphan

Away from the neon of Walking Street and the glitz of five-star hotels lies another Pattaya, one where Cambodian laborers live on 250 baht a day and gather their own food from area beaches.

The hidden subculture powers the growth of Pattaya and Thailand as a whole. The slow, but steady, rise in Thai living standards has left many crucial, low-paying jobs unfilled, opening the door for migrant laborers.

Cambodian laborers Niam, Kad, and Chok living a sufficient life following HM the King’s principle.Cambodian laborers Niam, Kad, and Chok living a sufficient life following HM the King’s principle.

Niam, 21; Kad, 18; and Chok, 18, are three migrants working in Pattaya as construction workers. They’re paid 50 baht under the 300-baht-per-day minimum wage, but are happy with it. They’d earn at best 150 baht a day at home.

The three live modestly, fishing for clams and crabs near Jomtien Second Road and picking their own vegetables. The money they save, about 1,500-2,000 baht per month - they send home to relatives. There’s often some left over for nicer clothes for themselves.

“I follow His Majesty the King’s example of sufficient living,” said Kad, referring to the Thai monarch, not his own King Norodom Sihamoni.

All three men speak Thai, even though they never went to school in their native Siam Reap. One worked as a mover in Chongjom Market in Surin for many years, picking up the language there.

It took a long time for Kad to come to Thailand legally, he said. Now that he’s here, he wants to stay. But there are many friends and relatives back home that cannot enter the kingdom; that is until the ASEAN Economic Community begins next year.

The AEC will liberalize the movement of labor among Association of Southeast Asian Nations member countries, opening up employment opportunities in the kingdom for workers from Thailand’s poorer neighbors. Come 2015, Thais may find their job snobbery could result in the first substantive unemployment rate the kingdom has known for many years.

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