HISTORICALLY low rubber prices have left rubber tappers in the South reeling under economic difficulties over the past few years and struggling to find alternative jobs to provide for their families.
Many have been forced to stop supporting their eldest child to have an education. Many children are dropping out of school in order to find jobs and help their siblings go to school. Many families are being forced to change their livelihoods and migrate to find jobs elsewhere.
Bangkok is one of their destinations. Previously, young people from the South crossed the border to work at Thai restaurants and or in Malaysia. But after the plunging value of the ringgit, Malaysian security officials have taken drastic action fearing terrorism by the Islamic State group, making it more difficult to cross the border.
These young people, especially Muslims from the three southern-most provinces, have chosen to settle down in Bangkok, in the suburbs and provinces near the capital, such as in Bang Bua Thong district in Nonthaburi.
Usman (last name not identified), a 30-year-old man from Yala, decided to take his wife and two children to Bangkok because of their economic plight amid the falling rubber prices.
“Rubber is very cheap. I have two young children who have not gone to school but I still do not make enough money to feed them. I make less than Bt200 a day by tapping rubber. How can I survive? I have to pay electricity bills, pay for rice and milk and other expenses that cost more than Bt200 a day. I am struggling to survive even though I have my own rubber plantation. Others do not have their own rubber trees and only sell labour to send their children to school. Their children study in high school so they must shoulder higher expenses.”
Usman talked to his wife and decided to find work in Bangkok. After he felt settled in his job at a computer tablet factory, he brought his wife and children to live with him in Bangkok. “Working in Bangkok is better because the value of the Malaysian ringgit has plunged,” he said.
Men seek security guard jobs and women sell labour. Usman chose to become a security guard for Bt450 per day and his wife was hired to put stickers on bottles. Both together make more than Bt500 per day. Their expenses are about Bt300 per day so they are able to save the rest of the income in case they are sick.
“This is much better than living at home [in the South]. We have no debt and that is enough for us. Whenever rubber prices escalate, we will go back home to tap rubber again. I hope they do,” he said.
The language barrier poses a major obstacle for Thai Muslims. “I sent my children to a school close to where we live; but they do not speak Thai so they did not want to go to school. I felt sad so I let them stay at home and taught them Thai. I hope next year they can go to school,” Usman said. Usman said people in the Deep South have faced not only economic difficulty but also the insurgency. Locals do not dare tap rubber in the night. He urged the government to solve the problem of falling rubber prices because the people now are witnessing more robberies than ever before.
Amenah, Usman’s wife, said she did not take a long time to decide to move to Bangkok with her husband. “How can we survive with Bt200 income to feed our family?”
Abduloh Sama, a 25-year-old man from Pattani, said he has worked as a security guard at a factory in Bang Bua Thong for four months so far. Earlier, he worked at a restaurant in Malaysia for many years.
“The falling rubber prices affect a waiter’s job because the restaurant in Malaysia made less sales and gave us a lower salary. We did not have a work permit so we had to commute to work every day and my expenses were high, so I decided to move to Bangkok.”
“I work 12 hours a day and make Bt450. Being a guard is a harder job than being a waiter but I can move around freely, unlike working illegally in Malaysia,” he said.