V. The interaction between formalisation and gender in Thailand: three case studies

The previous section provided a gendered perspective on national-level formalisation policies, including the expansion of social security, Prompt-Pay and mandated registration of online businesses. This section looks in more detail at three industries that employ significant numbers of informally employed women workers, including domestic work and cleaning sendees, sex work and manufacturing. The line between formal and informal work may be different across industries, and that line is often blurred. Because of the nature of work, some industries have developed their own unique set of formalisation policies, while workers in other industries are formal on paper, but may face barriers to accessing benefits due to work stigma. These case studies provide insights into the complexities at the intersection of formality and gender.

Case study 1: domestic work and cleaning services

Domestic work and cleaning services are common forms of employment in Thailand, representing 7 per cent of all women workers working in an employee relationship in 2016. Domestic work takes place largely within informal contexts. This section covers: recent government efforts to formalise aspects of domestic work, general trends in work conditions between formally and informally employed domestic workers and cleaners and findings from interviews conducted in Bangkok regarding work conditions and reasons for working in formal or informal situations.

Government policies and domestic work

The Labour Protection Act B.E. 2541 (1998) covers many aspects of employment protection, including wages, hours, paid leave, etc. The Act primarily covers employees in formal work situations (such as cleaners employed by hotels and other private firms), but does not specifically cover domestic workers working in households in informal situations. In 2012, the Royal Thai Government enacted Ministerial Regulation No. 14, B.E. 2555 (2012), which decreed that some provisions of the Labour Protection Act B.E. 2541 (1998) would be extended to domestic workers informally employed in households. These provisions include: domestic workers are entitled to at least one weekly holiday (Section 28); at least 13 paid traditional holidays including Labour Day (Section 29); six personal leave days annually after the worker completes a full year of work (Section 30) and up to 30 days of sick leave (Section 32). In terms of pay, domestic workers are entitled to regular pay in Thai currency at least once per month (Sections 70 and 54), and workers who work on a weekly, traditional, or annual holiday are entitled to an extra day’s wages (Sections 62 and 64). In terms of termination from employment, domestic workers are entitled to notice of termination (without cause) at least one pay period in advance (Section 17) and is entitled to any outstanding pay within three days of termination (Section 70). If the employer fails to give advance warning of termination, the domestic worker is entitled to wages that should be paid during the notice period (Section 17). Finally, domestic workers must meet the minimum age requirement for employment of 15 years of age (Section 44).3

While Ministerial Regulation No. 14, B.E. 2555 (2012) provides informally employed domestic workers several workplace protections, there are some notable exclusions. First, the provisions that cover domestic workers do not mandate a maximum number of work hours or mandatory rest periods per day. Since there is no mandated maximum number of work hours, it follows that there is no provision for hourly overtime pay. Second, domestic workers employed in homes are also not entitled to severance pay. Third, informally employed domestic workers are not covered by minimum wage laws.

As discussed earlier, the Thai government implemented the Social Security Act, B.E. 2533 (1990), which initially provided social security protections to formally employed employees (under Section 33) and on a voluntary basis to people formerly insured under Section 33 and have subsequently left employment (Section 39). Cleaners and helpers working in business settings (provided the businesses are following labour regulations) are eligible for coverage under Section 33 of the SSA, leaving most informally employed domestic workers and cleaners working in private homes without social security coverage. Informally employed domestic workers and cleaners working in homes and unregistered businesses generally rely on the UHCS and the Universal Non-contributory Allowance for the Elderly for healthcare and pensions, respectively. These workers are also eligible for voluntary subscription to Section 40 of the SSA for further protections, but as discussed above, the available packages provide lower levels of protection compared to Section 33 and the take-up rate is low (Schmitt et al., 2013).

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