BANGKOK — Korpong Tansuwan has a clothing store to run. But he’s also got children to run back and forth from school and supplies to keep in stock. His sole Burmese employee is left to manage things alone during these errands – which is when undercover cops like to show up and cause trouble. Trouble that can end in paying a costly bribe.
On Wednesday, Korpong was among 100-or-so shop owners who converged on the Labor Ministry to demand the law be changed because they can’t keep their stores open without illegally hiring foreign workers.
“Who’s gonna man the shop then?” Korpong said. “With this law, small businesses can’t develop.”
In a petition delivered to the ministry, the group demanded labor laws be relaxed to allow hiring foreigners – specifically Burmese, Laotians and Cambodians – as they cannot sustain the bribery needed to weather frequent police stings.
“Undercover police will do sting operations and pretend to go shopping in our shops,” Korpong, 42, said. “It is known that you need to pay them around 10,000 baht to end the matter.”
Currently, foreigners are not permitted to work in 39 jobs including retail under labor regulations written four decades ago. Burmese, Laotian and Cambodian workers, classified as “alien workers,” are permitted to work in domestic and unskilled labor jobs.
Labor ministers had earlier proposed that several jobs be relaxed, but retail was not included in their proposed changes.
In fact, Labor Minister Adul Saengsingkaew said on June 8 that starting next month, foreigners working jobs without documentation will be fined up to 50,000 baht and deported, with employers fined up to 100,000 baht per illegally employed worker.
“We’re not asking for this career to be ‘unlocked.’ We just want hiring a helper to be legal. We don’t want them to tell us what workers can or can’t do in our shops, such as selling items or giving change to customers,” Korpong said.
Korpong also said that shop owners try to find loopholes such as registering their service employees as laborers but are busted “as soon as their hands touch money.”
Upwardly mobile Thais are seeking blue-collar jobs if they have a degree, and high school graduates would rather work in malls or or even open up their own online stores rather than applying to work at small shops – leading few to apply to work in small businesses selling food or clothes.
Last week, another group of vendors took to social media to demand that they were short-staffed on finding Thai workers and needed hiring foreigners to be legal.
“Foreigners are better at this. They work harder, they can speak English, they express themselves and call in customers rather than playing on their phones,” Korpong said.
Their methods for finding employees may be behind the times, though.
Korpong admitted that most shop owners just put up paper signs in their windows in hope that local people will literally walk around and apply.
Korpong said he pays his foreign employees 400 baht a day, which is over the mandated minimum wage. He also gives them lunch and a bonus of 100 baht if they sell well. At the end of the year he says he gives them a bonus.
Tha Zin Hlanig, 27, a Burmese maid who was at the Labor Ministry to file passport documents, commented that she would probably make more money working in a shop.
“Mostly, we’re not allowed to work in shops. But I would probably get more money working there,” said the Mon state native. “I earn around 10,000 baht a month as a maid.”