Informal Workers Step Up Their Public Profile

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Informal Workers Step Up Their Public Profile

According to official figures, Thailand has a workforce of some 39.1 million people. Of this number a whopping 24.6 million, or just over 62 percent of the workforce are classified as ‘informal’ and therefore do not fall within the social welfare system.

Who are they? Well, they’re hardly invisible. Taxi drivers, street vendors, motorcycle taxi drivers, shophouse seamstresses, contract labourers, housemaids and the like are all, to some extent or another, considered self-employed and therefore fall outside the boundaries of the social welfare system such as it is.

In Bangkok, of its 4.8 million workers, around 25 percent, or 1.2 million people, form part of the informal workforce. Those figures alone are indicative of the importance of informal workers to the economic lifeblood of the capital.

In 2009 the Informal Workers Network was established to lobby the government and public officials to recognise the importance of this sector of the economy and to begin to improve the quality of life of the people engaged in the informal trade.

A recent forum, chaired by Sujin Rungsawang of the Informal Workers Network, brought media attention to the issues that have long confronted those people who have chosen a path outside the usual mainstream of salaried employment or the public service.

What do they want? Not unnaturally, those engaged in the informal sector would like to have access to the benefits of those who are employed in offices and within companies that, by law, have to provide social security benefits.

As the informal sector argues, just because they have chosen, or due to a lack of education or opportunity, been forced to take up an ‘informal’ working life, they should not be doubly penalised by being denied access to the services that other more advantaged workers receive.

What about informal workers tax contributions? Not surprisingly, many informal workers are unlikely to be paying any form of income tax. Then again, in many cases it is unlikely that more than a small percentage are in a position where their earnings are of a sufficient level to warrant putting in a yearly tax return.

The Bangkok forum, which was supported by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) and the National Health Security Office (NHSO), announced a four-point proposal designed to improve the general standing and profile of informal workers.

Among the proposals to the BMA was the registration of informal workers who would be issued with a BMA-certified identity card, entitling them to the welfare services and other benefits provided by the city administration.

Another proposal concerned the establishment of a health fund by the BMA in conjunction with the NHSO to provide healthcare services to informal workers.