Hourly wages back on table amid concerns
published : 27 Jul 2020 at 18:26
writer: Penchan Charoensuthipan
Authorities have pushed the adoption of hourly wages while labour activists remain wary that employees in some industries would be further exploited.
As unemployment soars in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak — 9 million Thais are forecast to lose jobs as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic — authorities have promoted part-time hiring, especially in the service sector such as the sale of food and goods, product arrangements and goods transport.
But employers have been reluctant. Part-time jobs involve hourly wages, which are allowed by law only for students and the elderly at the moment.
The law also requires employers to pay a worker not less than the daily minimum wages although he or she may work less than eight hours a day. The daily minimum wages, varying by province, now range from 313 to 336 baht.
The current hourly wages are 40-45 baht for students working part-time. Working hours are also limited to not more than four hours a day. The types of jobs they can do must also be relatively safe, or mainly in the service sector. For the elderly, the jobs must be appropriate for their age.
A survey held in May this year shows most small and medium-sized enterprises want more employment flexibility, Suchart Chantaranakaracha, vice-chairman for labour affairs of the Federation of Thai Industries, told a seminar recently.
He added many SMEs viewed permanent employment as a burden.
The SMEs prefer to adopt more technology, hire multi-skill employees and use more flexible hiring policies such as hourly employment or outsourcing.
The post-Covid-19 employment situation, he said, has become more flexible. A person may not work full-time and more people will work two jobs. That way, they may earn more than the daily minimum wages, he added.
Veerasu Kaewboonpun, a member representing employees on the National Wage Committee, said at the seminar that during the pandemic, an employer could no longer pay workers daily or monthly because there was not enough work for them to do.
“We want jobless people to be hired, even hourly, so they can at least make ends meet,” he said.
Yongyuth Chalaemwong from the Thailand Development Research Institute said in principle hourly wages must be higher than the average daily wages. “Authorities can make it possible by issuing a ministerial announcement,” he said.
But he warned of consequences, and said careful consideration was needed on what jobs would be eligible and the rules had to be strictly enforced.
He cited as an example the United States, where hourly wages have been used for 20 years.
He said the minimum hourly wage was set and jobs were grouped into 25 categories. “The wages also vary by business scale,” he added.
Anantachai Uthaipattanacheep, a member representing the government on the National Wage Board, said while the daily wages were here to stay, the principle behind the hourly wages was that they must be higher by a large margin than the breakdown of the daily wage. “If an employer hires someone for only four hours a day, they will be paid less than the daily minimum wage.”
To protect existing employees if employers try to force the hourly wages on them against their will, the rules yet to be announced had to take this issue into consideration.
“The rules must make sure hourly workers remain the system while maintaining the flexibility… For instance, working the fifth hour must be paid more or equal to the minimum daily wage,” he said.
Labour activists are concerned the hourly wages would open the door for employers to take advantage of workers further.
Manit Promkarikun, chairman of the Automobile Labour Congress Of Thailand, said in his experience in the textile, construction and furniture industries, the daily minimum wages were used across the board with no raises even for those working for 5-20 years.
Some employers resort to making employment contracts for 11 months and renew them indefinitely to avoid having to pay compensation for long-serving employees who would get some benefits by law if they work for a full 12 months.
“Some employers keep taking advantage of employees so I don’t agree with using hourly wages for industries,” he said.
He suggested ground rules on which industries could use hourly wages, types of work, age and gender had to be clearly laid down. They must then be enforced vigorously or hourly wages will be used across all industries.
Zia Champa Thong, chairman of the Federation of Textile and Leather Products Labour Unions, agreed.
“Even now, many workers don’t get paid the daily minimum wages. They are also not paid when furloughed during the pandemic despite the law saying they must get at least 75% of wages,” he said.