Although still very low, Thailand’s unemployment rate has increased from 0.48% to 0.83% in recent months. What are the underlying reasons for this increase?

SASOMSUB: I think the increase in unemployment could be attributed to the global economic crisis. Thai factories that export to Europe and other places have seen a decrease in orders. I think another reason is the increase in the minimum wage of Thailand. The increase in unemployment from 0.48% to 0.83% is a result of these factors.

Over the past year, Thailand increased its minimum wage in both the cities and provinces to THB300 ($10) per day. What effect has this had on employment rates, particularly for SMEs?

SASOMSUB: I think the government has done a great deal to help SMEs in Thailand. We have many projects that aid SMEs when they have problems. We have been able to assist them in their business. I have found during my travels to every province, that the effects of the increase in the minimum wage on employers have been very small. There are a few companies that have shut down because of the increase, but this is very minimal, and accounts for the job loss is about only 40 people. We had already sought out new jobs for them.

The National Economic and Social Development Board has expressed concern regarding the level of education of Thailand’s younger generation. How would you assess the education’s system ability to respond to labour market needs?

SASOMSUB: We are joining forces with the Ministry of Education to look at the job opportunities of the future, and match them with the education needed for these opportunities. We are focusing on sectors that need the most assistance, such as the automotive industry. We have invested THB2tn ($67bn) in infrastructure, high-speed trains, and water systems. We need many laborers for these projects. We are working step by step to see what training we need for these workers, in terms of skill level and engineering. We are working with leaders in education to make sure the current curriculum matches future job needs.

What rights and legal protections do union workers and laborers have in Thailand?

SASOMSUB: We have to work with human rights organizations directly. I think our social protection project is ahead of schedule. I am managing that personally. We are going to Geneva in June to present at the ILO 102nd International Labour Conference, and we will have to implement policies before we issue our report. I think the social protections of my department are a lot better than before. We are working on programs for senior citizens, such as pension plans, and also programs for the sick. We will do what we can to help, protect, and insure them.

How will the AEC 2015 liberalization measures affect the flow of labour throughout the ASEAN region?

SASOMSUB: I am not afraid of this integration. We are gathering to form one community. Everybody will be learning and helping one another. We will exchange our cultures and societies. Thailand needs to prepare for AEC 2015. We need to prepare for many key issues, and see what we can learn from others. We need to improve our language skills beyond English. Learning the languages spoken in Myanmar, Cambodia, and Vietnam, and learning what these people are like can be beneficial for everyone. The free flow of labour is going to be important, but it will need to be controlled by every department. The Ministry of Labour has a Department of Skill Development, which will be responsible for ensuring labourers are certified and skilled for their respective jobs. We have to make sure everything is done legally. There will be seven skilled labor categories that will first be liberalized. Doctors, nurses, and accountants are among these career paths. One must pass the test for every country in order that this process to be successful. For example, when a doctor goes to Singapore, they will be tested to make sure they have the necessary qualifications to work there. After passing a test of this nature, labourers can freely go from country to country without visas or taxes.

What benefits can Thai workers bring to countries in the ASEAN region?

SASOMSUB: Thai workers have been working in the construction industry in ASEAN countries like Brunei. They like Thai labour. They have built many things in the UAE and the Middle East as well. 80% of Thai labourers travel to this region for working in the construction business. As a result, we have a shortage in the supply of construction workers here in Thailand. I am signing a MOU with a large construction company in Thailand, to work towards training more people who are interested in the construction business. We know we lack labour in the construction industry here in Thailand. We are paying slightly higher than minimum wage for construction labourers as a result. We must pay attention to the wages paid by other countries. I like the free flow of labour for our workers. Employment in another country is good for them. We must train them to be productive, good workers. We must train them in language skills and prepare them for everything. I want them to be a good fit physically and mentally. This makes it an easier transition for them when they go to another country for work.