Readers' Submissions

So You Want To Work In Thailand, Do You?

  • Written by Union Hill
  • February 1st, 2008
  • 6 min read


Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok


I choose to live in Thailand and because I am not independently wealthy, I have to work here too. I love Thailand but as any expat will tell you there is a trade off to be made between living here and working here. Living in Thailand is brilliant. The golf is great, the weather is wonderful and of course, the girls are gorgeous. Working in Thailand however presents challenges that you would not normally expect to face in the West. Life in the office can be extremely frustrating if you choose to work in Thailand. That well worn expression ‘shit happens’ takes on a whole new meaning here.

Don’t get me wrong here. I love Thailand and this article is not intended to be a backhanded swipe at the country or the people. All I know is that these things never happened to me when I worked in London.

Assuming you work for a reputable company in the West and you actually turn up for work, you are entitled to take certain things for granted. For example, A) You can expect to be paid on time and in full. B) You are entitled to holidays and a reasonable amount of sick leave. C) You can expect to work a reasonable number of hours per day or per week. D) You can expect your tax and other deductions to be made correctly and to be paid to the appropriate authority or institution by your employer. In short, you can expect to be treated fairly and earn a fair day's pay for a fair day's work.

I hear the complaints about the extortionate levels of tax westerners are expected to pay and the nazi traffic police and the failing healthcare systems and street crime and pensions being ripped off and poor education standards all that stuff but sticking to the point of this submission, in the West you also have the benefit of legal protection against things like worker intimidation, unfair dismissal, hazardous working conditions, women get paid maternity leave and minority groups get other special considerations.

In my own personal experience, you can take none of these things for granted if you work in Thailand.

In 2001 I worked for a Canadian owned company run by Thais. The guy I worked for sold me one of the firm’s cars. He had his secretary draw up an official looking agreement and we both signed it. I paid him thirty thousand US dollars and took charge of the car. A few months later, the lease company, who unbeknownst to me were the real owners of the car, turned up and repossessed it. My boss had sold me a car that didn’t belong to him, stopped the lease payments and pocketed the money.

While at the same company, the company accountant approached me in my office one morning and said she needed one hundred and sixty thousand baht from me by lunchtime. The reason she explained was because I owed it in back taxes. She explained that for the previous twelve months, she had been deducting insufficient tax from my salary and I now owed the revenue department this money. I demanded more information. It turned out that the ‘tax’ that she had been deducting from my salary for the last twelve months was the correct amount but it had never actually been paid to the revenue department. Mysteriously, the ‘tax’ I thought I had been paying every month had been siphoned off into the managing director's pocket.

At this particular company it was common to work well into the night. Not just occasionally but the norm was to work fourteen to sixteen hours a day, six days a week. One of the girls there once asked the boss for a day off so she could attend her brother’s funeral. The boss told her she couldn’t have the time off so she didn’t go.

The same man once called a sales meeting and scheduled it for midnight on a particular Wednesday. I refused to attend but I was the only one who dared to not be there.

By 2003 I had had the good sense to move on. I found a new job with an Australian owned company. This group of companies had a chain of offices operating throughout Southeast and East Asia. I was supposed to get the various companies within the group to work more closely together; to work as a group rather than a bunch of independents doing their own thing. Amongst other things, my job was to instill a sense of teamwork and camaraderie between the various offices. The reality was it was like herding cats. None of them would go in the same direction. Some tried to dodge around behind me and some would run up the curtains, figuratively speaking. Getting Asians to work as a team is very difficult. They simply see no value in it. Nothing really went well from the outset but the biggest problems by far, were with the Thai subsidiary.

Because I live in Bangkok, it was agreed that I would be stationed in the offices of the Thai company. The Thai managing director instantly saw my presence as a threat and instructed his staff that on no account, where they to communicate with me or share any information with me regarding the business. Computer terminals were moved into a room not much bigger than a broom cupboard and the staff were crammed into this tiny area all so that I would not be able to see what they were doing. The door was permanently locked. My internet access was also regularly cut.

The climax came when I turned up one Monday morning to find the office locked and completely empty except for my desk and chair. The boss had relocated the entire office over the weekend. I had to laugh. It was like going home to find your family had moved house without telling you.

After I raised the alarm with the Australians, the owners of the company sent a delegation of accountants and auditors from Melbourne to find out what was going on. They found that a serious amount had disappeared from the company coffers. It was decided that legal proceedings would be instigated against the local managing director. The chief financial officer from Australia made several visits to Bangkok to build his case until he arrived at Don Muang one morning for Immigration to inform him that a warrant had been issued for his arrest. I had to bail him out at the law court. The Thai MD walked away with his ill gotten gains and the Australians were powerless to stop him. They have since made a policy decision to never do business in Thailand again.

Make no mistake, every business transaction in Thailand is laced with corruption. There is no other way to do business in this country. It makes no difference if you are involved in big business projects or a small, seemingly insignificant business. You will not be allowed to continue unless you pay. You will certainly never flourish unless you pay heavily.

One of Thailand’s top politicians was recently quoted in the national press as saying something like, “Corruption? I don’t see the problem. Nobody died”. That should fill western governments and investors with confidence, just in case anyone was in any doubt.

The point I am making is that Thailand might look like paradise to the casual visitor. Take your holidays here and enjoy yourself but paradise, it is not. Remember that old saying : How do you make a small fortune in Thailand? Start with a big one.

Union Hill

Stickman's thoughts:

The examples Khun Union gives here may seem extreme, but I can verify that these shenanigans are indeed the norm.

A colleague of mine always tells that Thailand is a great place to live….but a terrible place to work!