Bangkok Post

Labour rights advocates call for debt relief

Poor struggle under anti-virus measures

- PENCHAN CHAROENSUT­HIPAN

Labour rights advocates have called for a debt moratorium at financial institutio­ns as another state measure to relieve the economic impact on informal workers caused by antiCovid-19 measures.

While the 5,000 baht to be given to eligible workers for three months allows them to have some money during temporary business shutdowns, the delay in debt payments will help them better manage their monthly expenses, they said.

The Federation of Informal Workers (Thailand), or Fit, has asked the government to consider its proposal as workers, including self-employed individual­s and those left employed due to shops closing, have no money to pay their debts.

“There should be no principal, interest or fee payments for up to 12 months,” Fit chairwoman Suchin Sungsawang said.

The period is longer than that of the cash hand-outs because workers will need financial rehabilita­tion in the aftermath of the disease transmissi­on, Ms Suchin said.

Last Tuesday the cabinet approved a new package of relief measures, following the partial lockdown in Bangkok, with shopping malls, salons and many restaurant­s closed until April 12.

Besides the 5,000-baht grants, the help includes an immediate loan of 10,000 baht each with a monthly interest rate of 0.1% as well as a cap on interest rates at state-owned pawn shops, not exceeding 0.125% a month.

“Though the workers may be allowed to pay only the interest, the question is where can they can find the money to do so?” she said.

Many street food sellers and taxi drivers, categorise­d as informal workers, told the Bangkok Post they have no idea how to pay their debts when people continue to stay home.

Samret Murakha said he used to earn 1,000 baht a day and spent some on paying off his taxi and house, but with the dramatic drop in passenger numbers, he is now making 300 and 400 baht daily.

“If my house and car are seized, I have no urge to fight on,” said the 48-year-old driver from Si Sa Ket.

A papaya salad vendor said she is in a similar plight. Looking at her two empty mortars and pots which are usually filled with vegetables and meat, she said “that is all gone”, referring to the disappeara­nce of her customers.

“If I don’t sell, I will not survive,” the woman, identified as Mon, said. “Perhaps having no money is scarier than the Covid-19.”

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