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Thai Worker Ripoff Scam

Thai construction workers don’t make a heck of a lot of money, but normally they stay on site in a worker hut, usually bring supplies with them, and often food is either partially or totally supplied by the general contractor or client. Most of the workers come from Northeast Thailand (Isan) where they are farmers during the rainy season and construction workers during the dry season. Current day wages are normally between 210 and 250 baht for an experienced craftsman (chaang) and about 150 to 170 for a female laborer. (Upcountry rates are about 60% of this). Currently construction workers are in high demand as there is a building boom going on in several areas in Thailand.

Thai workers are unfortunately often taken advantage of. Here I wish to summarize one ‘prey on poor construction workers from Isan scam’. Before starting let me lay out the various players names: * Bo: a Thai woman from Udon living with her farang boyfriend. * Nat: Bo’s father. * Land Construction Company: A ‘huge’ construction company, which is partially foreign owned, involved in multi-billion baht construction projects. * Di: A rich Thai Chinese landowner developing a huge subdivision. * Sing: A contractor building out houses for Di.

This whole story takes place is a touristy resort town in Thailand. Together Bo’s boyfriend and her run a small bar and restaurant. One of their frequent guests is Sing. As Sing gets to know Bo, he tells her he is working on a huge subdivision development of about 2000 houses on over 200 rai of land.

Here is how the project sizes up. There are a large number of workers building out the project. All of the workers must officially be employees of Land Construction Company. Di wants everything done according to the book. Land Construction Company fixes a rate to build each house and has a contract with Di to build out the project. Land Construction Company further has several subcontractors, who will submit a bid for each house, labor only, using only the construction employees from Land Construction.

Bo’s friend Sing asks her is she knows of any construction workers. As the timing is perfect, that is right before construction season, Bo asks her father if he could put together a crew. Since Sing is a friend, he assumes that the deal is on the level. Specifics are left up in the air. Daily wage rate: we need to look at the ability level first — says Sing.

Nat, Bo’s father, does put together a crew of about 14 workers. Sing arranges a taxi to pick them up. An agreement is made that they will not be on the hook for transportation as long as they work three months.

When they get there they all fill out applications with Land Construction Company and a wage rate is set. They start working. Here is what goes wrong:

  • the wage set is low compared to what they are used too.
  • Sing is getting paid for each worker more than he is actually giving the worker. He is holding back 20 baht or more from each worker per day without the Land Construction Companies knowledge.
  • Workers are not allowed to bring in their own tools. There is an incredibly faulty tool check out policy and Sing holds back for missing tools.
  • Drinking water isn’t provided.
  • Unusual deductions: there is a 3% employment tax. It is calculated funny, ie. if a worker is getting 150 a day the withholding is 6 baht (rounding error)? Also there are some other misc. deductions.

The workers soon decide they need to go back. But Sing holds back their wages, even after the official pay day. Finally he agrees and pays a partial amount, minus deductions.

In the end the workers get partial wages, are dinged of course for taxi to and from the work site, and essentially work for free. No one stays longer than about 2 weeks to work for Sing, except for many Burmese (legally licensed to work here by Land Construction Company) workers, who get 1/2 the wages of Thai workers. Since these are high end expensive luxury houses, it wouldn’t be in Di’s interest to have a high turnover. Likewise, Land Construction Company apparently is paying the full pay wage. Sing as they say is a person of ‘influence’.

Nat still hasn’t been paid. He is back in the village and Bo has been told that Nat will only get paid when he delivers another group of workers.

From hearing the story I’m sure there would be many interested parties in Sing’s scam. First off, the Land Construction Company and Di the owner. Secondly the government employment agency. And of course, Nat is being forced to jump through hoops to even get any money. Maybe Nat will write a complaint and get the other workers to sign it. Somehow though, I doubt that anyone will do anything, other workers will come, get ripped off by this one shady individual and go back home. A rather unfortunate set of circumstances in the LOS.

Assumed names used in this true story.

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