Disclaimer: The story of how the working class is affected by the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent shutdown of businesses is one that must be told. They are the people who need government assistance the most. This article was done with appropriate safety precautions for everyone involved.
While those who belong to the middle and upper class have access to medical facilities, jobs that allow them to work from home and enough space to practice social distancing, many of those who belong to the working class do not have the same privilege.
At 56 years old, Ratchani Cheausuwan represents tens of thousands of workers who are most affected by the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent shutdown of schools and businesses. She is disabled, her right arm is paralized. She’s responsible for four grandchildren and one daughter who suffers from mental illness.
Before the outbreak and subsequent emergency decree, she made approximately THB300-400 per day, selling snacks at one of the schools in her neighborhood. She lives in the Khlong Toei community, only a few minutes’ drive from Bangkok’s central business district.
Now the only income she can look forward to is the disability check from the government, at THB800 per month.
“It’s very difficult and I’m very frustrated. I used to be able to do things and stay active,” said Ratchani, who can no longer sell snacks at the school.
“The cleaning lady at the school said the school will be closed indefinitely.”
“When there is a national crisis, those who rely on daily earnings like vendors or laborers will be affected. That’s most people in Khlong Toei,” said Penwadi Sangchan, Director of the Duang Prateep Foundation, which looks after underprivileged people in densely populated communities.
Urban professionals may sit at home, on the couch with a computer, working via Skype and Slack applications. By the nature of their job, vendors and laborers don’t have the same privilege.
“Day laborers cannot work. They are greatly affected,” said Penwadi. “They can’t even store food, because they don’t have any money to buy it.”
There are about 100,000 people living in Khlong Toei, made up of both residents and illegal squatters. There are upward to 3,000 houses with space ranging from eight to 24 square wah, all pact together in 200 rai of land.
In a community like Khlong Toei, a house is basically one room that an entire family lives in. There is no separate kitchen, bedroom or living room. Therefore, there is no social distancing.
Penwadi said, “If someone catches the virus, it will be a big problem because everyone lives in such close proximity to each other. And how will they quarantine themselves?”
“Please help us,” said Ratchani. “We don’t have a way out.”
When asked if her community has been receiving government assistance, she said she felt “hurt” because it seems “no one cares.”
“I want to cry. Things aren’t getting better,” she said.
Living next door to Ratchani’s family is Nid and her daughter-in-law. Like their neighbors, the two live in a one-room house. Nid sells snacks on the street. Her daughter-in-law is laid off from her job at a restaurant.
“The government should at least give out free masks. They are so expensive and very important,” said Nid. “We don’t have any money and can’t afford them.”
The government is providing assistance through the website, www.เราไม่ทิ้งกัน.com (No One Left Behind). Those workers affected by the shutdown of businesses may register and receive THB5,000 per month for a period of three months. The fund has been budgeted for three million people, but already around 20 million people have registered.
However for Ratchani, registering isn’t even in the question.
“How would I do that?” she asked. “I have a very simple phone for calling and receiving only.”
“A lot of the working class people and the elderly do not have phones or internet on their phones,” said Penwadi. “They can’t receive information like other people do.”