Assistant Professor Dr Ruttiya Bhula-or is a Vice Dean at the College of Population Studies, Chulalongkorn University, a director/ key coordinator of Collaborating Centre for Labour Research at Chulalongkorn University, a GLO Fellow and GLO Country Lead for Thailand. In her interview, she reflects the challenging situation in the economy and on the labor market both in the short-run and the long-run. She reveals her mission and vision as a researcher and describes her role in the upcoming collaboration between her university and GLO.
Some core messages of the interview:
- Chulalongkorn University collaborates with the Ministry of Labor to establish the National Labor Research Center and Collaborating Center for Labor Research at Chulalongkorn University (CU-COLLAR).
- The developing collaboration is to help facilitate the national-global platform in advancing labor research and policies into practice.
- Her upcoming publication deals with the socioeconomic disparities in Thailand under the impact of COVID-19.
- In the long-term, universal protection of vulnerable groups is the policy priority.
- The private sector is urging the Thai government to adopt a vaccine passport scheme to support tourism.
- Strong public health interventions, among other factors, had successfully flattened the epidemic Covid-19 curve by mid-2020.
- A large share of Thais were reported to be willing to be vaccinated.
Assistant Professor Dr Ruttiya Bhula-or is a Vice Dean at College of Population Studies, Chulalongkorn University, a director/ key coordinator of Collaborating Centre for Labour Research at Chulalongkorn University, Secretariat to National Labour Research Centre at the Ministry of Labour, and a committee member on Labour Reform, Thai Senate of Thailand. She has hand-on experience at the national and international level with UN organizations, and contributes to academic areas and promotes linkages of labour researches into policies and practices using an interdisciplinary approach. She has been actively working in the area of labour market analysis, skills, gender, migration, and labour policy linkages. As a GLO Fellow she is the GLO Country Lead Thailand.
Ruttiya Bhula-or & Attakrit Leckcivilize, Widening of Socioeconomic Disparities in Thailand under the Impact of COVID-19
GLO: CU-Collar and Chulalongkorn University have joined the GLO network. What is the institutional background?
Ruttiya Bhula-or: Chulalongkorn University collaborates with the Ministry of Labor to establish the National Labor Research Center and Collaborating Center for Labor Research at Chulalongkorn University (CU-COLLAR). The center aims at extending a network among educational institutions, private sectors in Thailand, as well as an international level and advancing labor, human resource research for the Thai and global community. The objective of CU-COLLAR is to leverage, to fully integrate and to manage labor-related knowledge and database of labor and human resources, along with (1) becoming a center for research studies on labor issues and enabling the planning of a labor development which is in line with the Thailand 4.0 heading toward sustainability and sustainable development goals; (2) promoting studies and usage of research in policy decision making; (3) developing a database that all interested parties can use for research purposes; (4) extending labor research network at the national and international level to increase competitiveness of the country and to promote a better quality of life for the Thai and global community.
GLO: What is your role in this new collaboration?
Ruttiya Bhula-or: As CU-COLLAR has a strong commitment to contributing to evidence-informed policy-making and promoting dialogue on labor, social and human development, our key roles are to promote linkages of knowledge and enable a platform as well as knowledge production and dissemination and for cooperation between stakeholders within the local and global community.
My role in this collaboration is to help facilitate this national-global platform in advancing labor research and policies into practice. The working mechanism includes existing and expanding public, private, and academic partnerships at the national and international level in building structures and systems that embed research use and drive evidence use in a sustainable development manner.
GLO: What are your recent research interests?
Ruttiya Bhula-or: My recent research interests are varied, including labor market analysis, skills, gender, migration, and labor policy linkages. My upcoming publication is the socioeconomic disparities in Thailand under the impact of COVID-19. CU-COLLAR has just published “a guideline to foster the Thai Labor Market through the COVID-19 pandemic” with the Thai Senate on Labor and has just reported to the Thai Senate last month.
Ruttiya Bhula-or and Chi Montakarn (2021) Approaches to Drive the Thai Labor Market Pass the COVID-19 Era: The Adaptation of All Work Groups and Ages Towards Stability and Sustainability
GLO: Beyond the COVID-19 crisis: What are the long-term challenges the Thai’s labor market has to solve?
Ruttiya Bhula-or: According to my article with Prof. Niaz, before the COVID-19, the COVID-19 outbreak will hammer existing income and wealth inequalities. The COVID-19 will have a disproportionately negative impact on the poorer households, who are informal workers, workers in small-to-mid enterprises and family businesses. On the other hand, many employers have reorganized businesses allowing employees the option to work from home, but the country’s digital divide remains wide. These challenges thus will be a short-term and long-term effect and need extensive and universal protection of vulnerable group as the policy priority.
M Niaz Asadullah and Ruttiya Bhula-or (2020) Why COVID-19 Will Worsen Inequality in Thailand. The Diplomat, 28 April 2020.
GLO: In particular: Will tourism recover and what can the options be for the country?
Ruttiya Bhula-or: It is clear that tourism-related sectors were the most severely affected due to the declaration of an emergency, a temporary ban on the majority of international flights, and measures restricting dining in restaurants and visiting entertainment venues.
Thai stimulus packages include a domestic tourism stimulus initiative, known as Rao Tiew Duay Kan (We Travel Together). However, Thailand is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world that attracted a large number of international tourists. Domestic tourism cannot compensate for the net loss. It is clear that the private sector is urging the Thai government to adopt a vaccine passport scheme and a travel bubble arrangement with countries where the prevalence rate of COVID-19 is low to moderate.
Maya Taylor (2021) The Thaiger Thai industry representatives push government on vaccine passport policy.
GLO: So far, Thailand was quite successful in fighting the pandemic: What is the explanation?
Ruttiya Bhula-or: Actually, Thailand reported an imported case of COVID-19; the first case detected outside China. Thanks to strong public health interventions, community engagement, effective governance, a high degree of public cooperation, and good community-based networks, Thailand had successfully flattened the epidemic curve by the mid-2020 (WHO & MOPH, 2020). Nevertheless, the second wave of outbreaks has started in December 2020 in a migrant-intensive province, highlighting the vulnerability of low-paid migrant workers to the pandemic.
World Health Organization & Ministry of Public Health (2020) Joint Intra-Action Review of the Public Health Response to COVID-19 in Thailand, 20-24 July 2020.
GLO: Why is Thailand not joining the international COVID-19 vaccine alliance?
Ruttiya Bhula-or: The Thai government claimed that Thailand, as a middle-income country, is ineligible for cheap vaccines under the WHO’s Covax scheme. The government also added that the country had to make an advance payment without knowing the source of vaccines and delivery dates. With this, Thailand becomes the last ASEAN nation to roll out vaccines.
In the meantime, health workers have begun receiving vaccination from imported Chinese Sinovac shots, but mass vaccinations for the general population will be locally produced in June . The additional reason goes to the efficacy of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which is upward of 70.4%, compared with over 50% for Sinovac’s product .
No doubt, this policy draws attention to the public interest. According to the survey by YouGov, a large share of Thais reported that they are willing to be vaccinated. (The survey was taken between Nov. 17 and Jan. 10, covering 2,088 participants in Thailand.)  In addition, the private sector, for example, the tourism industry, also further push pressure on the government for alternative stimulus and vaccine passport policies. We are looking forward to this June for vaccination and, with uttermost hope, a gradually socioeconomic recovering.
 REUTERS (2021) Govt defends decision not to join Covax vaccine alliance, 14 FEB 2021.
 Dominic Faulder and Apornrath Phoonphongphiphat (2021)Thailand finally kicks off COVID vaccinations: 25 things to know
 Khaosod English (2020) Thais most willing to take vaccine, out of 24 surveyed countries, 18 January 2021
With Ruttiya Bhula-or spoke Klaus F. Zimmermann, GLO President.