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Thailand's labour movement wins big in Social Security election

Labour rights activists and political newcomers have triumphed in the first Social Security board election, pledging to create a more efficient and inclusive social security system.

Nicha Wachpanich/HaRDstories
Social Security Office staff count the board election ballots in the evening of 24 December at the Provincial Social Security Office in Chiang Mai. Nicha Wachpanich/HaRDstories

CHIANG MAI – Six progressive candidates have emerged victorious in Thailand’s first Social Security board election, signalling a commitment to more inclusive and effective social security management.

The election, held on 24 December, marked a significant shift in the governance of Thailand’s multi-million-dollar Social Security fund. A total of 228 candidates vied for the seven employee representative seats, with six of these secured by members of the “Progressive Social Security” campaign, a collective of worker’s rights advocates. The seventh seat went to a member of the Thailand Government Employee Network.

The Social Security board, tasked with managing the fund, comprises 21 members from three sectors: employees, employers, and state representatives from relevant ministries, including Labour and Public Health.

The employer’s side of the board saw 65 candidates competing for seven seats, eventually won by business leaders from various sectors. Notably, Dr. Montree Tirakothai, a prominent figure in Saraburi’s sanitaryware industry, secured a significant win.

This newly elected board will commence their two-year term 30 days following the announcement of the official results.

Sweeping victory

The Progressive Social Security’s success can be attributed to its coalition of experienced labour rights activists and new political forces. This includes connections with the pro-democracy movement and the Move Forward Party (MFP).

Key figures among the elected include Sustarum Thammaboosadee, a Thammasat University professor and welfare state activist, who garnered a leading 62,192 votes. Other notable winners include Thanpong Shemenphan of the Rangsit Unions Network and women worker representative Raksamee Suwannapakde. 

The board also welcomed Siwawong Sooktawee, a migrant workers’ rights advocate, alongside young activists like Chalit Ratapana, a member of the newly founded Workers’ Uniona, and Nalatporn Krairiksh, a disability rights advocate and founder of Thisable.me.

Pratana Pohdee, from the Thailand Government Employee Network, secured the remaining seat

Election challenges

While hailed as a milestone, the election faced criticism for low voter turnout. Despite eligibility for 23 million Thai nationals, only 156,870 participated, a mere 0.68 percent of the potential voter base. Notably, over 1.2 million contributing migrant workers were excluded from the voting process.

The Progressive Social Security team originally campaigned with seven candidates, but Thanaporn Wichan was disqualified due to a technicality with her social security contributions, linked to a Supreme Court case on unfair dismissal.

A significant shift

The election represents a significant shift from the previous practice of state-appointed board members, a system in place since the fund’s inception thirty years ago. The winners have pledged enhancements to the fund, focusing on better maternity and unemployment support and inclusivity for vulnerable groups, including disabled workers.

“We see so many young minds come to vote – although they haven’t had much chance to benefit from the social security system – because they want to see change in society,” said Sustarum Thammaboosadee at an informal press conference in Bangkok after the unofficial voting results were published.

The Progressive Social Security group also aims to enable non-Thai insured persons to vote in future elections, addressing a key limitation of the current system.

“Thanks to all candidates, this election has been competitive and colourful with different policies to promote social security,” said Sustarum, reflecting on the election’s impact. “I believe the next Social Security board will be a major milestone to promote democracy in the workplace.”