Heavy rains suspend rubber tapping and strain migrant incomes

September 6, 2012

HURFOM: Above-average rainfall has inundated many areas of Thailand this year, stalling the rubber tapping industry for almost two solid months and disrupting the related income stream for migrant workers. Although it is not uncommon for rubber tapping activities to slow or briefly halt during the rainy season, the unusually strong downpours have pummeled plantations since July, and laborers dependent on daily wages eagerly await a break in the weather.

Rain presents a challenge to rubber tappers because the raw latex extracted from rubber trees becomes unusable when mixed with water. “We are having a hard time because we have to stop working so often due to rain this year. Sometimes, we have to borrow money from the boss to cover our daily expenses,” said U Banyar, a migrant worker from Phang Nga Province in Thailand.

In addition to the wet weather, the price of rubber has fallen fifty percent over the past twelve months. “This time last year, we could tap the rubber. Now, it’s not only inconvenient to tap rubber, but the rubber price is also down. This year, one kilo of rubber sells for 73 Baht,” said Mi Chan, a rubber plantation worker in Nakorn Pathom, Thailand.

Migrant workers on rubber plantations in Thailand report typically earning forty percent of the value of each kilogram of rubber they tap, while the plantation owners keep sixty percent.  In some cases, laborers said they receive fifty percent per kilo if they also assist with plantation upkeep.

Mg Moe, a migrant worker in Phang Nga Province, said, “When we cannot tap rubber, we apply for day labor such as cutting the grass and taking care of the plantation. Although I make enough to cover my daily expenses, I can’t afford to send money to my mother in Burma.”

Mi Chan added, “This is the only year we have faced this situation. Because we stop working so frequently, we only make enough for our daily expenses and are not able to save.”

According to Mehm Mon from Phan Nga, “This month, I could only work on the rubber plantation for ten days because of the rain. I have no other job and when it is raining, I stop working. I did not make much this month and could not send money to my parents. I just arrived here three months ago and still have debt from my travelling costs, but because of the rain, I can’t pay it. When the rain stops, I will work and pay my debt, but I don’t know when that will be.

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