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Thai Workers Demand Four Dollars A Day

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10 August, 2005ICEM News release No. 52/2001

"What do we want? A just wage!" chanted demonstrators marching through central Bangkok on Monday evening. "How much do we want? 180 baht a day! When do we want it? Now!"

180 baht is a little less than four US dollars. A modest pay claim by any standards, yet Monday's march was the second that Thai unions have had to hold in support of this and other key demands submitted to Labour Minister Dej Boonlong back in April.

This time around, the numbers had grown. 47 private and public sector unions and people's organisations took part. Significantly, the more than one thousand union demonstrators were joined by students and representatives of the urban poor.

The rally was coordinated by the labour union of workers in the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT). At the global level, the EGAT Labour Union and a number of the other unions taking part are affiliated to the 20-million-strong International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM).

The ICEM has declared its full support for the Thai demonstrators' demands.

The current daily legal minimum wage in Thailand ranges from 133 to 165 baht, depending on the region. The unions want 180 baht nationwide. In Bangkok, a family cannot live reasonably on much less than 500 baht a day, and most industrial workers have to take several jobs or put in excessive overtime just to make ends meet. Many are actually paid less than the legal minimum.

The government has been dragging its feet on the issue, pointing out that a national employer/union/government committee is responsible for setting the minimum rate. But this process tends to be very slow-moving, and it has never come up with a real living wage.

The employers, meanwhile, are opposing the pay demand. They say four dollars a day would be a body blow to Thailand's global competitiveness!

Another focus of the protests is a proposed new Labour Relations Act, which would further weaken collective bargaining and the right to strike. The unions want the government to withdraw this legislation, and instead to adopt a union-drafted law that protects worker rights.

Further demands by Monday's marchers included immediate implementation of an unemployment insurance scheme and other social security improvements and the ending of a long lock-out at a textile plant.

"Workers and urban poor - our problems are the same," a representative of the Network for the Urban Poor told the rally. "[Prime Minister] Thaksin says that in ten years' time, there will be no more poverty. Perhaps he means that, ten years from now, all the poor will have died!"

During the last elections, the now ruling Thai Rak Thai party promised that, if voted into office, it would implement an unemployment insurance scheme and increase wages.

But a worker delegation that met with government officials during Monday's demo reported little progress, except that the government undertook to respond within a month to the demand for unemployment insurance.

The government has broken its promises, said Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, of the Centre for Labour Information Service and Training (CLIST).

"Thai capitalists are able to go on golf vacations in other countries," Somyot told the demonstrators,"while we assemble electronic pieces in the factories as our bosses yell insults like 'Hurry up, Buffalo, work faster!'"

165 baht per day "is far below a just living standard," Somyot insisted, and "the money that is in the unemployment fund is our money, it is the people's money."

The rally closed with music from members of the Student Federation of Thailand and a vow from workers to keep the pressure up.