The luxury Dhara Dhevi Resort Hotel in Chiang Mai, one of the most expensive hotels in the province, closed this month leaving up to 200 workers with unpaid wages. On Friday, in a separate story, workers in Bangkok protested at the Social Security Office seeking a refund of contributions the day after former Thai Premier Thaksin Shinawatra told the BBC that the shutdown of Thailand’s economy at the end of the march was a grave error although he disassociated himself from politics.

The financial and economic headache linked with the coronavirus shutdown of the Thai economy, echoed by similar measures worldwide, has started to throb as millions of Thai workers face the prospect of unemployment over the coming months.

Thai workers protested on Thursday and Friday in Chiang Mai and Bangkok as economic experts predict that the coronavirus crisis will see 10 million permanent job losses even if the economy is fully reopened. In Chiang Mai on Thursday, 70 former staff at the now-closed Dhara Dhevi Resort Hotel protested outside the Labour Ministry in the northern city over ฿10 million in unpaid wages while on Friday, there was a protest at the Social Security Office in Bangkok as workers demanded quicker payment of social security refunds or payouts.

The consequences of shutting down the Thai economy are beginning to be felt on the streets as workers face the harsh reality of no employment and income even as the country attempts to reopen commercial activity in stages.

This week, in Bangkok, many workers were coming back to offices not to begin work but to remove their personal belongings as the reality begins to dawn that many businesses have not survived the lockdown sparked by the coronavirus which was implemented at the end of March.

Ex-Premier Thaksin Shinawatra described the economic shutdown as a grave error

On Thursday, speaking to the BBC, Thaksin Shinawatra, Thailand’s ex-premier described the closure of the Thai economy as a grave mistake. 

The former Thai government leader, ousted in a 2006 coup, however, was anxious to emphasise that he was no longer involved in politics and at this time, his thoughts were simply with the people of Thailand.

Kingdom has a long history of low unemployment

Thailand, up to this crisis, has long boasted one of the lowest unemployment rates in the world at under 1%.

Admittedly, the large size of the informal economy in Thailand precludes comparison on a like for like basis with western economies.

It has been the case for many decades now that Thai people have not found it difficult to find work or gainful employment.

Sobering economic prospect lies ahead

The coronavirus has already changed this as the Thai workforce will discover over the coming weeks and months as firms close their doors due to a lack of liquidity or fail to reopen them from the shutdown.

In April, Kalin Sarasin, who is the Head of the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, predicted that the closure had permanently cost 7 million jobs already.

He also forecasted the loss of a further 3 million in the coming months even after the economy reopens after having seen 27 million people out of work at its peak.

This could mean that up to 25% of Thailand’s workforce will be seeking employment and left without income.

It is an unprecedented and sobering prospect.

Worker protest seeking social security contribution payments and refunds in Bangkok on Friday

In Bangkok on Friday, workers staged a demonstration outside the Social Security Office seeking progress on the payments or refunds of their social security contributions as they are now unemployed.

The state agency reports that it has already paid out over ฿4.46 billion from the end of March to last Wednesday, the 13th of May and that further payouts are due to be processed.

However, nearly 200,000 workers find themselves excluded from these supports as their employers have failed to file the appropriate notifications.

It is understood that, in many instances, the firms have already closed down.

Thai businesses cannot now close their doors under Labour Ministry decree issued last week

This has led to an order published last week in the Royal Gazette from Thailand’s Labour Ministry prohibiting businesses from closing their doors and workers from staging strikes.

The order was issued by decree under Thailand’s State of Emergency provisions which are expected to be in place until the end of the month.

70 workers from the closed 5-star Dhara Dhevi Resort hotel protest in Chiang Mai over unpaid wages

Meanwhile, in Chiang Mai on Thursday, 70 workers from a now-closed 5-star hotel in the province staged a protest in front of Chiang Mai City Hall.

The group also filed a complaint with the Department of Labour in Chiang Mai on behalf of 200 former workers at the luxury Dhara Dhevi Resort Hotel which closed down in early May.

Veteran staff member says problems at the hotel began about 5 years ago but virus crisis closed it

The workers were represented by 50-year-old Mangkorn Sorachai who was the entertainment manager at the hotel. He worked there for eight years.

Mr Mangkorn claimed that the hotel’s management changed 5 years ago and thereafter, it began to experience financial difficulties. 

However, the staff were always somewhat confident about being paid since it seemed to always have guests. 

Dhara Dhevi Resort was the sort of hotel that tourism experts championed as the future of the industry

The Dhara Dhevi Resort was the sort of hotel that high-end tourists visiting Thailand delighted in. 

The building was a mixture of Thai and colonial-era architecture and offered guests a luxurious experience at a price. 

It was reported to be one of the most expensive hotels in the province and ironically, the sort of establishment that tourism experts have for years been advocating for Thailand emphasising the country’s unique culture and aiming for a more affluent market.

Virus brought things crashing to a halt in February and staff were offered 50% of their salary

However, the coronavirus crisis brought everything to a crashing halt. 

In February, as the crisis mounted, staff were told to accept 50% of their salary as that was all the hotel’s management could afford. 

In March, it was 25% as Thailand’s tourism prospects for the season dimmed.

There was no salary payment for April or May, by which time, the hotel shut its doors permanently.

฿10 million due in unpaid wages

Mr Mangkorn has revealed that salaries at the establishment ranged from ฿9,700 to ฿100,000 per month. 

He estimates that the combined amount outstanding to the 200 staff is ฿10 million in unpaid wages.

The staff representative has also revealed that no official explanation was offered by management at the hotel for the closure and non-payment of the monies due.

Meeting at the Labour Ministry in Chiang Mai

On Thursday, officials at the Ministry of Labour in Chiang Mai met Mr Mangkorn and two other representatives to hear their case. 

Afterwards, the staff representative said that if some sort of restitution for the unpaid salaries is not forthcoming by the end of next week, the matter will be referred to Thailand’s Labour Court.

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