New labor law expands benefits and fights abuse

Workers in Thailand, including foreign and domestic migrant workers, will be entitled to greater benefits and receive stronger protections against abuses such as forced labor, as the country’s new labor law came into effect last week.

Among the provisions in the new Labor Protection Act are a stipulation for equal pay for men and women doing the same jobs, increases in maternity leave to 98 days from 90 days, higher compensation for workers laid off after 20 years of service, maintenance of existing employee rights and benefits when a business changes ownership, three paid days for personal leave, and the right sue if an employer does not pay overtime.

At the same time, legislators added forced labor as a crime under the Kingdom’s anti-human trafficking law. The penalty for those convicted of using forced labor is four years in prison and a $12,500 fine.

“It shows the serious intent of the Thai government in tackling forced labor and improving the image of the country,” said Puttanee Kangkun, a human rights specialist with advocacy group Fortify Rights in Bangkok.

Puttanee said the penalties are strong in the context of Thailand, but how effective the law will be in deterring the use of forced labor and other abuses will depend upon how strongly the law is implemented and enforced.

The United Nations estimates there are about 4.9 million migrants in Thailand, forming more than 10 percent of the Kingdom’s workforce. Most migrants are from neighboring Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam and are drawn to Thailand by its stronger economy.