Special Report: Thai workers concerned over future prospects on eve of Labour Day

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On the eve of the National Labour Day on May 1, Thai workers continue to face a daily struggle brought on by rising living costs and prolonged political turmoil.

The University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce (UTCC)’s recent poll found that the majority of Thai workers or 93 per cent are trapped in a cycle of debts. The average debt of 93.7 per cent of Thailand’s working-class families amounts to some 106,216 baht.

Around 56.1 per cent of respondents are trapped in a cycle of informal debts, with monthly repayments of 7,400 baht. The figure represents a six year peak.

Workers are calling on the government to raise the daily minimum wage to 388 baht to cover basic living expenses, adding that minimum daily income should increase to 498 baht in the next three years to cope with the rising cost of living.

The Federation of Thai Industries (FTI) has also expressed concern over the rising unemployment figure due to slowing domestic spending, contracted economic expansion and decrease in export volume. As the political crisis drags on, major industrial factories have temporarily suspended operations and have halted efforts to recruit new workers.

The FTI warned that if a new election fails to take place and a new government cannot be formed within six months, at least 500,000 recent graduates could be unemployed after receiving their degree. Thailand’s unemployment is so far 0.9 percent or the second lowest rate in the world.

Despite their daily struggles, consumer spending on May 1 is expected to increase 2.3 per cent to almost 2 billion baht from around 1.9 million baht last year.

Thailand’s companies and factories take a holiday on 1 May for National Labour Day. The holiday has been adopted to give workers an opportunity to rest for a day, although Thailand’s workers have enjoyed a five- to seven-day break during the annual Songkran Festival mid-April.

For many countries, Labour Day is synonymous with International Workers’ Day, which also occurs on May 1. International Workers’ Day is a celebration of labour and the working classes that is promoted by international labour movement. May 1 is a national public holiday in more than 80 countries and chosen as the date for International Workers’ Day by the Socialists and Communists of the Second International to commemorate the Haymarket affair in Chicago that occurred on May 4, 1886.