Workers face increasing debts

The quality of life of Thai workers is the worst in six years, as the economic slowdown and higher cost of living have resulted in inadequate income to cover higher expenses, leading many of them to rely on unorganised loans.

The latest survey by the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce (UTCC) involving 1,200 respondents from April 17-21 found that more than 80% of them had insufficient income to cover expenses, while 93.7% said they faced increased debt.

The survey focused mainly on workers who earn less than 15,000 baht a month.

Average debt per household was estimated at 106,216 baht, a 7.9% surge from 98,428 baht in 2013 and against 87,399 baht in 1999.

Organised loans were found to have risen to 56% of their debts from 49% in 1999.

Thanavath Phonvichai, UTCC's vice-president for research, said household debt had seen a significant rise since 2012, when the government raised the monthly salary of state workers and the daily minimum wage, as most workers with increased income started creating more debts particularly to buy residences and vehicles.

“Once economic conditions are not favourable and their income has yet to increase as expected while their expenses and cost of living are higher, the quality of life of most workers gets worse,” said Mr Thanavath. "This leads many of them to rely loan sharks or mortgage their assets."

In addition, the survey reported that up to 76.1% of respondents said they had no savings or extra income from overtime or extra jobs.

Mr Thanavath, the survey also found that workers have started to feel increasingly worried about their jobs and unemployment although most businesses have yet to lay off staff.

“Nonetheless, what we find right now is a delay in recruitment by employers and a cut in working hours for existing employees,” he said. “The unemployment rate is expected to stand at around 1-1.5% of the total workforce this year.”

Mr Thanavath warned that the unemployment rate still has a chance of reaching 1.5% to 2% if the political conflict turns violent and leads the economy to contract this year.

The National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB) in February warned a rise in unemployment and a drop in income are highly likely due to an expected drought, delays in state investment, political protests and weakened confidence among consumers and businesses.

The continuing political tension and delays in government investment recently prompted the agency to cut this year’s growth forecast to 3-4% from the 4-5% predicted earlier.

The unfavourable prospects will eventually affect employment and people’s incomes, the agency said.

However, it pointed out that recovering exports will give the country an economic lifeline.

The NESDB yesterday reported unemployment in the fourth quarter of 2013 stood at 257,900 or 0.65% of the workforce of 39.4 million compared with 190,245 or 0.48% in the same period in 2012.

In 2013, the unemployment rate averaged 0.72%.

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