To celebrate Labour Day last Sunday (1 May), the Workers’ Union marched from Ratchaprasong Intersection to the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre to call for labour rights and fair treatment for workers in every sector.
The march passing through Rama 1 Road on their way to BACC
During the march, protesters place red flowers in front of Pathumwanaram Temple in memory of Red Shirt protesters killed there during the 2010 crackdowns, while participants stood for 53 seconds of silence.
A group of musicians also performed in front of the Lido Connect shopping mall, after giving a speech about the lack of public space for artistic expression in Thailand.
Red flowers placed in front of Pathumwanaram Temple in memory of Red Shirt protesters killed there during the 2010 crackdowns
Nat, 22, is a member of the Workers’ Union and an organizer of the march. She said that she joined the Workers’ Union because she wanted to join the fight against mistreatment and exploitation of workers in the country.
For Nat, raising the minimum wage is very important and would give hope to every worker, but she is not sure if it would be possible. In respond to a comment made by Labour Minister Suchart Chomklin that raising the minimum wage must take into account what both employers and employees can survive on, Nat said that the minimum wage has not been raised for several years while living costs are rising. She noted that daily goods, food, and gas are getting more expensive, and many workers who are not getting pay raises and are not paid for overtime are having to save up more.
She has no hope that the current government can solve any issue, and said that issues relating to welfare and quality of life are more likely to be solved with a new government.
Other participants in the march also called for better treatment for workers. Zin, a 22-year-old technician, said he came to the march because he wanted to learn more about labour rights, because he does not know much about them or welfare, which he said might be because these topics were not taught in schools.
Zin said that if people were taught about labour laws and rights, people would be less likely to be exploited. He said that, before he became a technician, he worked in a restaurant, and his employer took advantage of him by forcing him not to take holidays and deducting his pay as a guarantee against resignation, which he later learned were illegal. He also said that the authorities should educate workers of all nationalities to make sure that people know their rights, and media should be in several languages so migrant workers have access to information.
Wat works for a private company, and said that there are still labour rights and mistreatment issues in Thailand, such as how the law states that workers may work 6 days a week and get a day off when it should be a 5-day work week and a 2-day weekend.
He said that the minimum wage should be increased. “A good minimum wage is a wage that allows people to have a good quality of life. The government should see whether the current cost of living and wages are in balance,” he said.
He also wants the government to improve workers’ freedom of assembly and their right to negotiate with employers, since the law is stopping workers from forming unions and should be amended to allow such organizations for both formal and informal workers.
24-year-old Vee is an engineer and said he joined the protest because he wanted to learn more about labour rights. He said that when he goees out with friends, they often talk about their experience at work and labour rights issues, which makes him believe that young people do care about workers’ rights.
For him, most labour rights problems experienced by engineers are related to welfare, but the most significant is healthcare. He also said that the current factory safety regulations are not enough, and that many factories do not have sufficient safety measures for engineers who work with dangerous machinery.
Vee also wants the government to provide equal healthcare for all. “No matter what you do or which position you have, everyone should at least be able to access the same standard of healthcare,” he said.
Meanwhile, 21-year-old student Da said she has seen workers being exploited and paid less than the cost of living while working, and called on the government to provide welfare for workers in every sector, not just civil servants.
Da said that young people are paying more attention to labour rights, since they saw what their parents went through and are concerned because they know they have to go into the workforce one day.
“I want the government to see everyone as equal,” Da said. “I feel like most rights that are convenient or are OK are probably for the elite or government officials. People who do not have opportunities or do not have a lot of money are having a hard time.”
Migrant workers from Myanmar at the Labour Day march while holding a picture of Aung San Suu Kyi
The protesters were joined by migrant workers from Myanmar, who protested the military dictatorship in Myanmar and mistreatment of migrant workers.
Veera Sangtong, a migrant worker from Myanmar, also joined the march. He said that migrant workers are being mistreated by their employers, but they are not able to leave their jobs because they are worried about not earning money to send home.
He said that he would like the Thai authorities to issue worker identification for migrant workers and to make sure their employers enrol them in the social security scheme. He said that some workers he knows have been in Thailand for 10 years, and while part of their salary is deducted to pay for social security, their employers did not contribute, causing them to miss out on social security benefits and other labour rights.
“I want the whole world and the Thai government to know what rights we’re not getting, even though those rights have been ours since the beginning. We pay taxes too, and it was our nation who built the Thai nation. Those skyscrapers were all our handiwork. Thai people don’t do it. Only Burmese workers do it, but in the end, we are not being cared for by the government as well as we should be,” Veera said.
Veera added that workers are happy living in Thailand, but would like equal rights to Thai workers, and that he would like the Thai government not to support the junta in Myanmar. He said that the workers who joined the march wanted the world to know that people from Myanmar do not support the dictatorship, and that the situation in Myanmar has worsened as people are either dying or fleeing to the borders every day.