It is increasingly common to see signs identifying building materials written in the Myanmar or Khmer languages as well as Thai at construction sites. This does more than reflect the nationality of labourers working at the sites. It shows their willingness to work due, in large part, to anticipation of the nationwide enforcement of the 300-baht minimum wage next month. But the estimated 2 million migrant workers employed legally in this country should not set their hopes too high because some might be disappointed. It would be a shame if this were allowed to happen.
While approval of a populist measure for low-income Thai earners is one thing, making sure it is observed and paid to an effectively disenfranchised minority of non-Thais is quite another. That is why the government needs to make it clear that legal migrant workers are entitled to this increase in the basic wage along with their fellow Thai workers and that employers ignoring this will be punished. Not only do foreign migrant workers comprise 7% of the workforce, they are prepared to do the dirty and backbreaking jobs that others are not.
Unlike their Thai counterparts, their options if cheated are very limited, perhaps not in theory but certainly in practice. They are subject to every whim of a giant bureaucracy designed to make their lives difficult and block changes of employment. This can lead to the temptation to work under the radar, a path that guarantees exploitation, misery and police harassment. Creating such a bureaucratic obstacle course is a short-sighted approach because competition for labour can only increase.