The sorrow of workers does not come singly, but in battalions: Talking with Sripai

Sripai Nonsi, the representative of Rangsit and Area Labor Union group, talks about the impact of Covid-19 outbreak which affects workers. The workers not only are laid off or receive less pay, but they also experience severe consequences that people, especially the government, can’t imagine.

Sripai established Rangsit and Area Labor Union group  (RALU) in order to promote the right of worker to negotiate with employers. However, among the disease outbreak situation, the performance of Labor Union is interrupted. Also, she decides to stop working and returns home in the countryside because she is afraid of being infected from Covid-19 and being a disease carrier to her house. She worries about her older brother who has cancer and 90-year-old mother. “If both of them were infected with Covid-19, they would be dead indeed.”

Instead, she earns a living by selling secondhand clothes in a market. On the other hand, because of the impact of Covid-19 and the Emergency Decree, she has to stop selling and deals with business problems. Furthermore, Paisri is the defendant with the crime of calling for the election 2 cases: gathering in front of Thai Royal Army (Army57) and rallying to the UN (UN62). The Court still summoned her to present herself usually. Every time she comes back from presenting herself in Bangkok, she would quarantine in her house for 14 days.

All of this had been carried on along with helping workers who are affected from economic crisis before it got worse due to Covid-19, the enforcement of the Emergency Decree, and curfew.

 

The impact of Covid-19 on workers “being unable to work and not receiving payment in full”

The first huge problem of workers during Covid-19 outbreak is income because worker’s wage is reduced, especially workers in the tourism and service sectors. For example, some workers in an airport only receive 40% of wage. Whereas the workers who are not a member of a labor union; someone does not receive any compensation and is forced to leave immediately. Some workers are received to sign a document that show intention to resign voluntarily, which laying off workers could be twisted in many methods.

“The hotel workers at Sukhumvit area are convinced to write a leave of absence letter without being paid. They are afraid that if they don’t write it, they would be laid off. They had written the letter. However, when the business is shut down,  the employer announced that all workers are laid off. The business cannot carry on. God’s sake. ”

The employees cannot live by the wage only, but they live by welfare as well. If they stop working, welfare such as diligence allowance, extra money, meal allowance, travelling expense, and etc. would be cut off as well.

 

In the factory sector, most employees are forced to stop working, and their workday is reduced, so employees would not receive full wage. However, it’s not the biggest problem comparing to lack of welfare.

“Anyway, the employer never pay in full. The best assistance that I have seen during this crisis is the case of the employees of a bathroom product and kitchen product company. The employer pay 100% wage and give extra money for each employee at least 15,000 bath.

“In the first place, subcontracts (independent contractors) would not get paid. Therefore, those subcontracts called for the board of directors until they got an amount of money, which is not as equal as the full-time employee, whereas other companies do not provide any compensation. An auto parts company claims that they gives 100% wage, but if you look on the details, they would give only the first month. The next month, you won’t get it, or they just give you for a few day.

“When you don’t get full paid, there will be a problem about the rising expenditure. Because, the employees cannot live by the wage only, but they live by welfare as well. If they stop working, welfare such as diligence allowance, extra money, meal allowance, travelling expense, and etc. would be cut off as well.”

 

Not only do the employees live by the wage, but they also live by certain welfare. When they stay homes, the expenditure increases a lot.

Sripai said that welfare from factories such as the cost of living, the diligence allowance, the cost of shift work, and food provided by the factories reduces the expenditure of employees a lot.

“If the employees work regularly, they would have meals from a cafeteria of the factory. For example, food outside would cost at least 40-50 bath, but in the factory, food would cost 15 bath. Some factories provide free rice. employees just buy dishes, which a factory has set the cost.

“When they stay homes, they need to pay everything by themselves. The cost is different as well. I suppose that for example, an employee has income at least 15,000 bath. He spends it for mortgage, car payment, and school fee for his child, and etc. All of this is calculated that he could pay by depending on the welfare from a factory as well.

When they cannot work and forced to stop working, the wage is reduced and remains only 75%, and the cost of shift work would not be paid. For example, the night shift receive at least 80-100 bath per hour. Just one month, His income loses thousands bath. His meal once was cheap,  but now, it becomes expensive.

“Some workers totally depend on factories. They have lived and eaten in a factory cafeteria on weekdays; eaten street food on weekends. Many workers do not have crockery, rice cooker, or  refrigerator, so they have to search for kitchen utensils after the announcement of the Emergency Decree.  

 

Sripai told further that not only is food expensive, but some workers also totally depend on factories. They have lived and eaten in a factory cafeteria on weekday; eaten street food on weekends. Many workers do not have crockery, rice cooker, or  refrigerator, so they have to search for kitchen utensils after the announcement of the Emergency Decree. They cannot buy food and eat at a food shop. Later on, the next problem is that shopping malls don’t sell  electrical equipment, especially rice cookers which is difficult to buy. If they would like to shop online, many workers did not know how to order online.

“This is one of the impact, but people hardly mention about it because it is just trivial details in people’s live. Some people have everything already. They don’t know that some group of people don’t have it. They don’t even have a refrigerator. These workers cannot buy refrigerators because it costs at least 5,000-6,000 bath. They cannot afford it. Even though they can afford rice cookers, they can’t buy. Because, there were no sellers, so people are suffering a lot.”

 

Curfew leads to unemployment of the night shift. The night shift would be fined at least 40,000 bath even though they have certificate from their company.

Not only does the unemployment lead to lesser income, but curfew has prohibited people to go outside since the 3rd April. Whoever violates this announcement, they would be imprisoned, not exceeding two years, or they would be fined, not exceeding 40,000 bath. As a result, the night shift cannot work and are fined even though they have certificate from the company.

“Right now, the problem is curfew. The night shift experiences huge problem. Around Rungsit area, many workers are arrested. A company runs around to pay a fine. Even though the lawyer of the company comes to assure that these people are the worker of the company, the officer still refuse. The announcement from the Director-general of the Department of Labour Protection and Welfare is not clear at all. The regulation No.1 prescribes that the night shift workers can work which conforms to the announcement of the cabinet. However, looking on the regulations No. 4 and 5, it appears that finally, the employer must change the work shift in order to not violate curfew. The police or the Department of Disease Control comes to check in particular areas. They insisted firmly that workers cannot work because of curfew, and they are not allowed to go outside. However, the officer does not look on the exception that night shift workers are able to work, but finally, they are forced to stop working.

“A lot of workers are arrested. They haven’t come out without a certificate. Their employers had made it before the announcement. It assures that this person is really the worker of the company. He really works at that time. The administrative section of the company or the manager has signed the certificate, and it turns out that it’s no use. The police claimed that there must be the signature from the governor or the sheriff, so the certificate would be effective. So, think about how many employees in Pathum Thani, if they really sign it, it would take a lot of time. The announcement was released 2 days in advance. No one can prepare it in time. The government does not told that you must have the certificate with the district or provincial seal; the governor must sign it in every case. They just told that it is needed in certain cases.”

Sripai told about the second night of curfew that at least ten trucks carrying fish were arrested even though they were food trucks. The owner must pay fine at least 40,000 bath per a truck because he did not want to waste his time to go to the court.

“Everyone fears. Apart from losing job security, it makes us feel that Hey! our life is not stable at all. We don’t know that one day, we will be caught or not.”

What’s more, the Emergency Decree and the announcement that ban selling alcohol for 24 hours makes Sripai worry about many workers who are alcoholic.

“Most people drink alcohol. They don’t know how the Emergency Decree gonna affect their life. At 18.00 p.m. at least 17 people are arrested. Only 5 people can be bailed out which costs 50,000 baht per each one. The rest of them do not have money, so they have to go to the court. It’s a problem.”

“I’m concerned that some people would die or not if they did not drink alcohol. A lot of people are alcoholic, but they stop drinking suddenly. Someone might hoard, but someone does not have money to hoard alcohol. People would buy it as a quarter, a cup, or a shot of alcohol. Most people cannot afford as a bottle. They would buy a bottle of alcohol if they drank together and shared the price. As a result, they are caught.”

“The second night of curfew that at least ten trucks carrying fish were arrested even though they were food trucks. The owner must pay fine at least 40,000 bath  per a truck because he did not want to waste his time to go to the court.”

 

The risk of infection: the executives come back from affected area and don’t quarantine.

Sripai told her concern about the risk of Covid-19 infection toward the workers in Rangsit area. The main problem is that the exceuctives came back from Japan and did not quaratine.

“The executives, either Thai employers who went to Japan and came back or Japanese employers came back and did not quarantine themselves. When they do not quarantine, they came back to work in the factory. So, it turns out that they spread virus to colleagues. More than 10 people are quarantined. Many factories experience this kind of problem, so it makes us worry.”

“Some of workers are willing to not receive 75% of wage. They want to stop working because they fear that they would spread virus to their family. For me, I am so scared. I am not scared to get infected, but I’m scared that if I got infected, and I went home where my brother who has to go to hospital regularly because of lung disease and my 90-year-old mother have lived , they would get infected. It would be a disaster. So, I feel that I would regrete if I bring disease to them. So, I’d better stop working.”

 

Virus outbreak, the Emergency Decree, and curfew force factories to shut down.

Many factories have shut down until the end of April because many factories have to work the late shift. They are unable to work night shift, so it needs to stop temporarily. Furthermore, most of factories in Thailand are factories that manufacture products for export, which they need to import materials from abroad. For instance, a motorcycle assembly factory usually imports spares from Indonesia, Japan, and China, so it is affected because of the closed port. All transportation is interrupted. Even exportation is not allowed.

Sripai told about workers who are laid off due to these situations that if it has the labor union, they would receive compensation. However, if not, it would depend on employers and employees, how they gonna negotiate and make a deal. “Many people don’t think about establishing the labor union, they just think how to negotiate in order to get 100% or at least 75% of wage, which is reduced to 40%. If they were laid off, there would have any compensation or right that they worker should have according to the law.”

 

The performance of the Labor Union is interrupted.

The annual general meeting cannot be held. “Right now, there is no more establishment of the labor union. We just organize through social media. We’re now learning to use Zoom application for the meeting, but face-to-face conversation would be cancelled because it’s dangerous.”

The activity of the Labor Union must be stopped including the activity of Labor Day on 1st May.

“We discussed already that there would not have a rally, but we would write our demand, and all workers post it online together. That’s the campaign.”

“The officer of Labor Department said that it could be postponed, but anyway the meeting has to be held because the law is law. I’m confused that which laws we should follow between the Emergency Decree and the Labor Law.”

 

For the activity in seminar project and meeting people at least 2 times per week, it must be cancelled. Moreover, the Labour law forces the Labor Union to hold the meeting for representing the balance sheet (financial statement) every year. However, this year, it plans to hold the meeting at the end of March. However, it is cancelled due to Covid-19 and the Emergency Decree.

“The problem is that we cannot hold the meeting for showing the balance sheet report because workers have to join the meeting in the evening at a restaurant. Now, the Emergency Decree does not allow people to eat in restaurants, but people can only order it to take home. We have to use a cafeteria for the meeting or the meeting room of school, which is not allowed to use. We asked the company, but they denied because the Union has to report to the state. If there is a general meeting, the company fears that they would get trouble because of providing a space. So, we cannot find the place for meeting. The meeting is cancelled. Even though we can find the place, we don’t hold it anymore. We don’t dare to do it.”

“Now, we postpone the balances meeting. The officer of Labor Department said that it could be postponed, but anyway the meeting has to be held because the law is law. I’m confused that which laws we should follow between the Emergency Decree and the Labor Law.”

Sripai observed that the general meeting or the annual balances meeting of the Labor Union should have exception because we don’t know when the situation would be better. Also, we don’t see any measurements from the state to make people believe that the situation would be better soon.

“I bored that the government gives the game away. A lot of announcement give a chance for employers to take worker’s right away. Eventually, the things that seem impossible, for example, the employer told employees to leave suddenly, ordered them to stop working and did not pay wage, and let workers call for social welfare payment by themselves, and others, can do it and put all burdens to the employees letting them carry on prosecution instead.”

 

The general meeting cannot be held. It affects the process of submitting complaint of employees.

When there is no the general meeting, annually submitting complaint is affected first. Because the committee of Labor Union would submit complaint to change the status of employment, the members have to vote for the committee in the general meeting.

“Now, a Japanese motorcycle company faces a lot of problems because according to the regulation, the employees must submit complaint in June. If we don’t hold the general meeting, how we gonna vote.”

“If we don’t submit complaint, it would affect on annual raising pay, which it imposes year to year only. For the next year, if we don’t submit, the employers would not raise wage or raise but depending on them, which is the problem for employees. If we cannot negotiate, we will find the way to submit it. It might use the old method before the Labor Union was established. It is to collect signature and submit in the name of employees, not in the name of the Labor Union. It might be that method. Another issue is that if we are not serious and don’t promote any regulations in order to make a change, it would affect until the next year. ”

“There is a Japanese medical divices manufacturing company. An employee had submitted the complaint. The employer was pissed off. He said why you submitted at this time. Don’t you see the Covid outbreak. Even though it is medical devices manufacturing company, they exploit this situation to take worker’s right away.”

 

The forgotten group: employees in restaurants, massage stores, and construction sites, including of those who experience wage theft

Sripai told that before the Covid outbreak, a group of employees had severely affected by economic crisis such as the employees in restaurants, massage store, and construction sites, which they cannot assess to their right or Labor Law at all. Now, everybody has strayed.

“I help those migrant workers in construction sites. They don’t receive wage and are in the red. Many workers haven’t received wage and don’t have enough money to buy food during the Covid outbreak, but actually, they haven’t received wage before the Covid outbreak. They talked to me trembly because they don’t receive wage and are in huge debt.”

“So far, I have helped at least 26 people who don’t have money to buy food. I have to collect money within the group, buying instant noodle, egges, canned fish, rice. So they would not be hungry while finding a new job. However, when they got new jobs, the Covid outbreak interrupted their work again. I don’t want to imagine. Now, I don’t dare to phone to anyone because I’m also weak. The employees in the industry sector once was quite strong, but now, they cannot help anyone.  ”

“They were cheated since last year. It’s long-term problems until the Covid outbreak comes. It’s dead. Also, during this time, the courts do not work. All cases are suspened. Don’t talk about Covid, finally, poverty would kill us first.”

“So, I cannot imagine what it will be in the future.”

Sripai sighed very hard with this gloomy situation and mentioned about the law indiscriminately enforced and the state that lacks measurement to compensate people equally.

 

From Sripai’s perspective, the Emergency Decree is a vicious circle. Earlier, workers have been affected from economic crisis. Sripai had to move back to the countryside, taking care of her family and receiving impact from being prosecuted in case of “We want the election.” Still, she doesn’t abandon the work of the Labor Union and keeps asking the rights of worker including of following impact of the disease outbreak. She does whatever she could.

 

Don’t talk about Covid-19, finally, poverty would kill us first.

 

 

#TLHRJusticeDistancing /// Read the story of Sripai at The prosecutor prepared to prosecute the leader of We want the election group in front of Thai Royal Army (ARMY57) on 6 March 2019 and We want the election UN62, the witness examination between January and March 2021.