Business, Economics and Jobs

What's the cost of survival in Thailand?


A Thai worker hangs from a cable while he cleans a building's windows in Bangkok on June 9, 2011.



How do you know your job sucks?

When you're willing to strike for a 50-cent pay raise. Per day, not per hour.

That decision, agreed upon by migrant workers in a Thai-owned shoe factory, adds context to a contentious debate about the daily cost of survival in Thailand.

The newly elected government, to be led by Thailand's first-ever female premier, Yingluck Shinawatra, has promised to raise the minimum wage to roughly $10 per day.

Sound like peanuts? Well, it's an extremely appealing step up for laborers here. Depending on the province they live in, the wage hike vow would boost their day rate by anywhere from 35 to 90 percent, according to Reuters.

College grads, the incoming PM promises, will be guaranteed $495 per month. Again, peanuts? No way. That salary, to most grads, would signify that they'd come up in the world. I rub shoulders with young professionals making those wages at all of the $3.50-per-beer or $2-per-coffee joints I frequent with friends. (Those places are considered pricey.)

The promised raises have, of course, triggered a backlash from big business and even social commentators, such as former World Health Organization advisor and well-known academic named Dr. Prawase Wasi.

According to the Thai-language paper "Bangkok Business," he contends that laborers can get by on $4.90 per day provided their boss offers lodging and food.

I'd say he's right, provided that worker has no plans of saving a single penny, traveling more than a few miles from their primitive dwelling and has kids that never get sick and have no hopes of college.

Ladies making $4.90 per day may need to forego lunch and dinner on the day they purchase hygiene products, as an acquaintance of mine suggests on Twitter.

That hopes of $10 per day helped sweep a party to victory, and hopes of an extra 50 cents provoke migrants to strike, shows how many people in this mid-size developing country are just getting by.

Perhaps the $10-per-day promise will scare off international factories in search of cheap labor. But perhaps an overhaul of Thailand's faltering education system could impart enough skills so that the market, not politicians and social critics, will guarantee a wage that allows society's low earners to live above the margins.