Screw the workers or the junta is screwed

24 01 2018

Organized labor in Thailand is struggling to stay organized. For decades business and the state have worked together to ban and then repress organized workers. Labor laws are flouted, employers have officials in their pockets and on their payroll, and leaders of workers at the factory level are harassed and threatened.

Wage setting in Thailand, which revolves around the maintenance of what was once a daily national minimum and is now set for provincial zones is essentially a bipartite process as workers and state decide on what the minions in factories, shops, offices, malls, hotels, boats, fields and so on will be paid. It was only about a week ago that this committee set the new minimum wage.

The decision set seven wage rates from 1 April – 308 baht, 310 baht, 315 baht, 318 baht, 320 baht, 325 baht and 330 baht. The average minimum wage was about 316 baht with rises ranging from 2% to 7% above current levels. For workers in the provinces who will now be getting 308 baht a day, that’s a rise of thus see a wage rise of 8 baht since 2012 or about 0.4% a year or 1.3 baht per day. At the highest rate, it is 1.7% a year or 5 baht a day.  A bus ride on a regular non-a/c bus in Bangkok is 8 baht.

Calculated as a yearly rise, the highest rate for someone working every single day of the year on this new minimum wage would earn enough to buy 7.6% of one of General Prawit Wongsuwan’s watches (at the estimated average cost).

Those pitiable rises were due to be approved by the junta’s cabinet yesterday, with the “Ministry of Labour …[to] also propose an exemption from the wage stipulations for the provinces in the government’s flagship Eastern Economic Corridor development project…”. How that makes sense is beyond us. We would have thought that you would want your workers in your flagship establishments being your most productive and best paid. But this is a military junta making decisions….

Unfortunately, even these small wage increases (which many firms ignore anyway) are just too much for Thailand fattened business class. The Nation reports that the bosses are rebelling, demanding that the junta “go back to the drawing board on the recently announced rises in minimum daily wages [saying] that its members say do not reflect the different economic conditions across the country.” Kalin Sarasin, chairman of the The Joint Standing Committee on Commerce, Industry and Banking chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, says 92% of business owners “in all provinces agreed that the rises announced for 2018 are higher than the rates that had been proposed by the provincial wage committees. This meant that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and farmers could be hit hard by the higher wages, which they say are not adequately based on economic conditions in each area of the country…”.

Business owners are used to having cheap labor. That’s been one of the state’s main roles over decades of economic development. That’s why inequality remains at Latin American and African levels. That’s why, in 2016, the top 1% in Thailand controlled 58% of all wealth and why the top 10% gobbled up 80% of all wealth in the country.

Greed is one thing but we think the political threat from organized business is also clear. The message is: help us on blood-sucking wages and we will continue to support The Dictator and his men. If the junta fails, its political future is dimmer still.

Trying to fix an election, part II

12 02 2011

Jailing opponents, engaging in massive censorship, killing protesters, being backed by the military, judiciary and palace (that banned hundreds of politicians who would oppose the royalists), and getting an already rigged constitution fixed again seems not enough for the Abhisit Vejjajiva-led government as it sets about trying to “prove” its legitimacy by way of the ballot box.

The Bangkok Post reports that the government has decided to “extend the subsidy on diesel until April to keep pump prices below 30 baht a litre, amid criticism from businesses that the move had no purpose other than increasing its popularity with voters.” That’s estimated to be at a cost to taxpayers of  13 billion baht.

Throw that not insubstantial sum in with all of the government’s other schemes such as the 9-10 billion on Pracha Wiwat giveaways that are also meant to increase popularity through throwing money at voters and the taxpayer is being saddled with a hefty bill for the Democrat Party’s need to appear legitimate.

Dr Somsak Vivatpanachart of the Thai Chamber of Commerce said: “It’s an obvious effort by the government that aims at political gains…”. Usually the Chamber is a big supporter of this government. Somsak added that “squandering the Oil Fund was tantamount to taking public money to promote waste and prodigality.”

Together with the cost of keeping this coalition together for another election and for seeking defections from the post-Thaksin Shinawatra parties, all of this spending means that we are probably looking at the most expensive election in Thailand’s history.

Capitalists and military align on monarchy

16 07 2010

The Bangkok Post mentions “a merit-making and Buddhist chanting ceremony was held at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, organised by the Internal Security Operations Command, the Thai Bankers’ Association and the Thai Chambers of Commerce. Hundreds of people took part in the ceremony aimed at bringing Thais together in a show of unity and loyalty to the monarchy.”

This brings together the peak organizations of business and military internal security in order to support the politically debilitated monarchy. PPT suspects that the ceremony is doing little more than making the palace feel better about its declining position and getting together true believers for a symbolic act. Certainly those who now oppose the monarchy are not likely to be convinced by last-century propaganda.

Under pressure on emergency rule

4 07 2010

PPT saw Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva in a buoyant mood on Channel 9 on Sunday as he was “interviewed” by tame “journalists.” Abhisit was fronting his ludicrous PR stunt involving a phone in of “ideas,” with callers being received by some politicians, some celebrities and some students in uniform. He said that the emergency decree might be lifted in some areas and maintained in others where red shirts remain active.

In The Nation, however, a range of groups have come out to criticize the government for maintaining emergency rule. Business groups and local and international organisations are said to have “heaped pressure on the government to immediately lift the state of emergency for the sake of national reconciliation and stability…”.

Abhisit disingenuously claims that emergency rule “was still necessary” but “not because the government wanted to squeeze the opposition…”. As PPT has pointed out previously, when under pressure, Abhisit claims that he is acting to preserve the rule of law. In this instance he said the “government just wanted to implement the law effectively…”. In fact, the emergency decree allows the government to act as if it is above the law.

The International Crisis Group is cited as claiming the Abhisit government as having “persisted with this [reconciliation] plan despite having created an atmosphere of repression where the basic rights of the red-shirt group are denied by the emergency law…”. It calls for the government to “unconditionally and immediately lift the state of emergency.”

Local groups have also “denounced the government for retaining the draconian emergency measures even though the situation had calmed down enough to be controlled with regular laws. The groups included the Human Rights and Legal Assistance Centre for those affected from Political Turmoil, Human Rights Lawyers Association, Cross Cultural Foundation, Union for Civil Liberty, Campaign Committee for Human Rights, Environmental Litigation and Advocacy for the Wants, and Deep South Watch.”

They have been joined by business groups that see the state of emergency as crippling for the tourism industry. Even the usually tame Federation of Thai Industries and Thai Chamber of Commerce wanted the emergency law lifted. FTI chair stated that the “emergency law has had a detrimental effect not only on the private sector’s confidence but also on human rights…”.

Democrats defend ISA

15 09 2009

The last time the Democrat Party decided that using the draconian Internal Security Act was politically useful, Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij was wheeled out to defend its use as being supported by and in the interests of the business community. He’s doing it again. The Bangkok Post (15 September 2009: “Korn: Security law boosts investor confidence”) reports on Korn’s support for the use of the ISA despite its negative implications for human rights.

For Korn, the “imposition of the Internal Security Act from Sept 18 to 22 in Bangkok’s Dusit district will boost the confidence of investors and the general public…”. Korn, who was a vocal supporter of PAD’s demonstrations and who even wrote in the Bangkok Post that he supported illegal acts by PAD, also played the “third hand” card: “The only point to be concerned about is that a third hand might take this opportunity to provoke unrest, which could affect the confidence of investors as happened during the Songkran riots in April.”

The only “right” Korn is now interested in is the government’s “right to invoke the security law to ensure that the rights of the majority will not be abused by ill-intentioned groups.” In this, Korn is in the company of other PAD supporters like The Nation’s Sopon Onkgara.

Korn’s mantra is that the “use of the law would generate both public and business confidence,” saying that “If the government did not invoke the security law, the confidence of the people and investors could suffer much more…”. In fact, by imposing the ISA, the government was “demonstrating it was prepared to maintain peace and order, to prevent any possible negative impact on the economy, particularly on trade and investment.”

As in his previous support for the use of the ISA, Korn was supported by compliant business leaders. This time, the Thai Chamber of Commerce chairman Dusit Nonthanakorn is reported as supporting the government’s decision to invoke the ISA. Dusit said that “the general public should not worry about the use of the security law as many countries used similar laws to maintain internal peace and order.”

For a view from one of those other places, see here and here. In fact, ISAs like those in Thailand, which hand over considerable control to the armed forces, are quite rare.

Based on the “logic” invoked by Korn, the government might just as well go the whole authoritarian route and invoke the ISA all the time so that business leaders will feel more confident. It is sadly ironic that a party named the Democrat Party is taking Thailand back to a darker age. A scion of the elite like Korn has little concern for political or human rights except when he uses such rhetoric in support of his own political interests, privilege and wealth.