With the nation’s success in recovering from the Covid-19 outbreak so far, Thailand has been internationally praised. Despite the government’s ability to handle the coronavirus pandemic, the impact has continued its disruption on the Thai economy and labor market.
“The Covid-19 crisis is unlike any other crisis the world has encountered. Over 70% of the workforce around the world has been severely affected by the lockdown measures. In Thailand, over 22.3 million people have filed for unemployment claims during the outbreak”, shares Dr. Saowanee Chantapong, Senior Expert at the Macroeconomic Department, Bank of Thailand, during a seminar on Approaches to Drive the Thai Labor Market Pass the COVID-19 Era: The Adaptation of All Work Groups and Ages Towards Stability and Sustainability. The seminar was organised by the Collaborating Center for Labor Research of Chulalongkorn University: CU-ColLaR, the Senate Labor Comission, and the National Labor Research Center to enhance knowledge and understanding on the adaptation of the workforce, as well as seek ways to prepare for future crises.
The Senate Standing Committee on Labor Chairman, Pol Gen Adul Saengsingkaew, pointed out during his opening speech that, “the result of the unemployment situation in Thailand can be attributed to two main factors: state control measures and the adaptation of businesses and employment sectors, resulting in the concept of a new normal way of life.” He added that the state and relevant departments should, therefore, work together to immediately respond to the crisis by supporting the employment workforce, adjusting social security policies to protect employees, and developing the skills of Thai labor.”
The Permanent Secretary of Labor, Mr. Suthi Sukosol, as Advisor President of the National Labor Research Center, the Ministry of Labor, gave a lecture during the virtual seminar, sharing that the state has issued guidelines and measures to help employees and employers by providing advice and knowledge to create understanding between the two parties. Under section 75 of the Labor Protection Act, if the employer’s business has ceased operation due to the Covid-19 virus, the social security office will provide relief measures, help employees search for jobs, and develop their skills through the Smart Job Center. As for foreign migrant workers, the Department of Employment has measures to slow down entry approvals and have relaxed and extended the duration of stay.
Prapun Simasanti, representative from Thailand’s Board of Trade, adds that immediate remedies for workers and employers must be provided, especially for those in the tourism and hospitality industry that received direct impact. “We should use this opportunity to develop our workforce, support employees, and enhance their language skills to provide better service in the future.”
During May and June, Dr. Montakarn Chimmamee, Researcher at Chulalongkorn University’s Social Research Institute and at CU-Collar, organized an online seminar under the topic “Thai Labor Post-Covid-19: Adapting for Survival and Sustainability”. According to Dr. Montakarn, the positive and negative impact of Covid-19 on the Thai labor market boils down to three points:
- The Covid-19 crisis has revealed the structural problems of the Thai labor market – especially the problem of dependency on low-skilled labor, the issues of migrant workers that are not under social welfare, and the mismatch between labor demand and supply.
- The Covid-19 crisis has been the 21st century’s biggest digital disruptor, which has accelerated digital transformation and pushed the role of AI systems into the workforce.
- The Covid-19 crisis has created new jobs and opportunities with the use of technology. Entrepreneurs were required to respond to the changing consumer behaviour and adjust their business models to deal with the crisis.
The trend of the labor market in the future will change. Work will be more flexible, and employees can work from anywhere. Manus Kosol, President of the Confederation of Thai Labor, says that “The state should reform the universal social security system so that everyone can have access to basic rights. Additionally, the government should have policies to promote the agricultural sector, fund entrepreneurs to invest in processed food, support unemployed workers during Covid-19, and work on a policy to cover agriculture labor under the Labor Protection Act.
Supa Yaimuang, Director of the Sustainable Agriculture Foundation, adds that we should look after the well-being of agricultural workers, such as raise welfare benefits, provide fair and equal access to funding sources, develop the economic structure of the local communities by providing multi-channel marketing, and implement food security policies.
Covid-19 has not only affected the existing workforce but has influenced the weakened aging community of the future, says Professor Vipan Prachuabmoh, Dean of College of Population Studies and Project Lead at Chula Ari. “Every sector needs to be prepared for the aging society, especially those aged 40 and older. In order to cope with changes throughout their lives, they should take into consideration – house planning, saving money, self-development, and physical and mental health care.”
“The government should help increase the work skills and life skills of the aging population of 40-50 year-olds by promoting sufficient economy, foundational economy, and the distribution of wealth. Additionally, by strengthening local communities, we can use the population data at the regional level to plan and reach out to the community in times of crisis. By focusing on building a strong foundation, creating jobs near home, and reducing migration and inequality, we could be moving towards alleviating the economic and environmental problems.”
Lastly, Dr. Saowanee Chantapong states that this crisis is an important opportunity for us to reform and rebuild our ecological systems and develop labor markets of all groups and dimensions. It is also a chance to improve local skills, income, and life quality for Thai workers, and come up with short-term measures to help overhaul the strained social welfare system.
According to Dr. Saowanee, four points should be immediately implemented:
- Database sharing of labor agencies and educational institutes to be used in the country’s economic development plan.
- The country’s economic development approach should focus on growth that leads to full employment, leading to higher income and a better quality of life.
- In times of crisis, migrant labor groups are especially fragile. All sectors should accelerate social welfare development plans to cover all groups.
- The labor skill development process should be accelerated amidst rapid and large technological changes to support the country’s recovery. It is important to reassess the education system and the demand and supply of the rapidly changing Thai labor market.