Most National Economic Development Plans include strategies to increase equity and social services, create employment in rural areas, and increase access to education. The poor are still mostly made up of rural agricultural workers.
Large state firms are the focus of unionization efforts. The post-1973 parliamentary period stands out for labor's influence and progress. New laws create a minimum wage law and allow true unions to form, armed with the right to bargain collectively. The army's return to power in 1976 ends the labor heyday, and many labor leaders, like student and peasant activists, are killed or forced underground.
With industrial take-off, demand for manufacturing workers now exceeds agricultural workers, and a wage gap develops. Poverty decreases over time, but inequities widen. Many laborers work in the informal sector with little or no social protection.
Poverty levels fall from 33 to 11 percent. Though partly co-opted, unions get a Social Security Act passed in 1990. The 1991 coup dissolves unions in state firms, and subsequent civilian governments do not relax restrictions. Now the reasons are more economic than political, as foreign investment is at a premium. Below-minimum wages and job hazards are common, as a 1993 toy factory fire kills 189.
An economic crisis turns social as millions are laid off, many returning to rural areas. Poverty rises to 13 percent, an additional 1.1 million people. Between 1996 and 1999, real income falls almost 20 percent for the less educated. Help from neighbors and relatives helps cushion the worst effects, while public work schemes target the poor. A new law restricts child labor, but the problem persists.
The World Bank notes that "the poverty problem has come back." The poorest fifth of Thais accounts for 4 percent of national income while the richest fifth enjoys nearly 60 percent. Compulsory schooling rises from six to nine years, with plans for 12 years of free education by 2004. Thaksin's successful platform includes a million-baht development fund per village and universal health care.
back to top