The Abhisit Vejjajiva government is preparing to introduce a mass of populist and social-welfare measures to win advance votes before the next election, scheduled for next year.
The latest case in point is a plan to increase civil servants’ salaries 5 per cent in the second half of fiscal 2011. The pay raise, which will cost an additional Bt30 billion on top of the present Bt500-billion salary expenditure, will take effect around next April next year – about 10 months from now.
In addition, the government is considering extending cost-of-living measures for low-income earners, including relief from energy costs, while preparing to forgive a massive amount of farmers’ debt.
The list of populist and social-welfare measures since Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva took office more than 18 months ago has been extensive.
It seems fortunate that the country’s fiscal reserves still stand at a high Bt180 billion, while public debt remains relatively low at 42 per |cent of gross domestic product (GDP).
Thailand has social welfare and social insurance systems. Social welfare involves welfare services aimed at the poor, persons with disabilities, children, the elderly, women, minority hill tribes, and other disadvantaged individuals. The social insurance system provides sickness, maternity, disability, death, dependent child, old age, and unemployment benefits. There also is a social security system for private-sector employees and medical security and pension systems for public-service employees, employees of national enterprises, and military personnel.
Thailand’s labor force was estimated at 35.5 million in 2006. About 39 percent were employed in agriculture, 38 percent in services, and 23 percent in industry. In 2005 women constituted 48 percent of the labor force and held an increasing share of professional jobs. Less than 4 percent of the workforce is unionized, but 11 percent of industrial workers and 50 percent of state enterprise employees are unionized.
Although laws applying to private-sector workers’ rights to form and join trade unions were unaffected by the September 19, 2006, military coup and its aftermath, workers who participate in union activities continue to have inadequate legal protection. According to the U.S. Department of State, union workers are inadequately protected. In 2006 Thailand’s unemployment rate was 2.1 percent of the labor force.