Worker debt hits high
Household burden heaviest in a decade
Thai workers are saddled with the highest debt levels in 10 years, mainly incurred from daily consumption, vehicles, investments, residential purchases, debt repayment and medical expenses.
The latest survey by the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce (UTCC) is based on 1,194 respondents whose income is lower than 15,000 baht per month. It found that 96% of them were in debt.
The survey estimated average debt per household at 137,988 baht, the highest level in 10 years, up by almost 5% from 2017.
The average woker's family, including factory workers, have a personal debt of roughly 10 times their monthly income. (File photo)
Some 85.4% of respondents have defaulted on debt repayments in the past 12 months, mostly because of lower income, higher expenses, rising product prices, and a higher debt burden and interest rates.
A majority of respondents, however, said they have maintained their spending as usual despite their relatively high debt.
Most are calling on the government to raise the daily minimum wage each year to keep up with higher living costs, reduce unemployment rates, continue controlling product prices, tackle the migrant worker problem, keep a lid on informal debts and cut lending rates.
"The purchasing power of labourers has started to recover, but it remains fragile," said Thanavath Phonvichai, vice-president for research at the UTCC. "The relatively low income of farmers, in light of falling prices for key farm products such as rubber, oil palm and corn, is part of the predicament of labourers, who account for 60% of the Thai population."
Mr Thanavath said the economy is largely driven by robust tourism and export sectors alone.
"The government needs to rev up injections to the local system to bring about employment; take care of farm prices, and step up state investment projects," he said, pointing out that the state money injection to local administrations remains relatively slow and only large contractors and construction firms are benefiting from state projects.
Mr Thanavath suggested that the government also needs to create a mechanism to let small-scale contractors and construction firms secure construction jobs in the government's development projects.
The National Statistical Office reported last month that Thailand's unemployment rose by 61,000 jobless workers in February from a year earlier, with bachelor's degree holders maintaining the highest unemployment rate, according to the latest survey.
According to the report, 491,000 workers were left unemployed in February, representing 1.3% of the 38.42-million-strong workforce.
There were 329,000 workers awaiting seasonal work, according to the report.
In February of last year, the number of unemployed workers totalled 430,000, equivalent to 1.1% of the total workforce of 37.6 million at the time.
The statistics showed that as of February, 177,000 bachelor's degree holders were unemployed, making up the largest segment, followed by those with junior high school certificates (115,000), high school certificates (103,000), primary school (73,000) and lower primary school (19,000).
Compared with February 2016, unemployment for junior high school graduates increased by 52,000 people, and that of bachelor's degree holders increased by 26,000, lower than primary school graduates, which rose by 1,000.
Of the total, 11.27 million workers are in the farm sector and 26.33 million in the non-farm sector.