Yesterday I went to a new construction site in Pattaya. A new condo building is being built here, and it’s due for completion six months from now. Except for the construction foreman the laborers are from Cambodia and Burma. The owner of the company is Thai. I’ve been told he owns a Ferrari and a Mercedes. I asked someone in the know, “Are all these workers illegals? remembering an American bar owner friend of mine who was once arrested by the police for talking to a customer in the bar he owned. “No,” my contact replied, “They are all legal. The company hiring them is too large and well established to be hiring Cambodian and Burmese illegals.” Which I interpreted to mean that the owner had probably been buying work permits at hugely discounted prices from a government employee whose palms he had been greasing.
From my observations of construction work going on in my neighborhood, I have noticed that most of the workers do not look or carry themselves as Thai. As for my own condo building, I used to visit the construction site at least twice a week when I’d wander from floor to floor to compare the different types of units while observing the progress that had been made. On reflection, knowing what I know now, the workers on the general construction crew did not appear to be Thai.
I’ve been told that Thais do not like working construction jobs because the work is too hard. I never believed that. There’s just too many Thais going from bar to bar at night trying to sell DVD movies to the customers, flowers, Polaroid pictures and what have you. The real answer is, the men who make the wheels turn in this country love their Ferraris and Mercedes too much. So I asked my girlfriend about it, and she told me the Burmese and Cambodian construction workers were getting around 4500 baht a month. This is in a country where our own cleaning women in my condo building are getting between 6000 and 7000 baht so with the baht presently at a rate of exchange of 1 American dollar to thirty baht this means that cleaning women are getting $200 a month while Cambodians and Burmese doing construction work are getting just $150 a month.
Well, I’ve been back to the villages upcountry to see how the people live in Issan, and I’ve met a lot of Thai men who are unemployed or who are just barely eking out an existence doing a little of this or that. I’ve also met a lot of bar girls who will stay with a man they really don’t like for as little as $250 a month. They do it because their brothers and sisters don’t have jobs and because they only have sixth grade educations and can’t find anything for themselves. So do I believe that Thai people are too lazy to want to work construction jobs? No I do not. I think the sentence is incomplete when it reads, “Thai people do not want to work in the dirty, sweaty and dangerous conditions construction work entails,” to “Thai people do not want to risk their lives working for just 4500 baht in such conditions.”