If you have access to a clean toilet at your workplace, you’ll probably appreciate it a lot more after reading this. We usually take common things like toilets for granted, without once thinking about how luck we are! Bus conductors in Bangkok, Thailand, don’t even get toilet breaks – they wear adult diapers instead, and are forced to answer nature’s call on the job.
That might sound gross, but it’s actually kind of sad. The story is the same in several parts of Thailand – blue collar workers aren’t even provided with basic amenities. Bus conductors have it the worst – without any work breaks to tend to their physiological needs, they have to wear adult diapers all day long . It’s no laughing matter – the diapers are actually making them ill.
One of those affected is Watcharee Viriya, a conductor who developed urinary tract infection because she spent several hours away from a restroom. So she started wearing diapers, which only made matters worse. “It was uncomfortable when I moved, especially when I urinated inside,” she said.
“When I arrived at the bus terminal, I had to run to get changed. I used at least two diapers a day.” Watcharee was recently diagnosed with cancer of the uterus, for which she needs to undergo surgery. “The doctor told me that it was because of wearing dirty diapers and the substances from them going into the uterus.”
According to a survey conducted by the Thai Women and Men Progressive Movement Foundation, 28 percent of female bus conductors wear diapers during their 16-hour shifts. “We were shocked,” said Jaded Chouwilai, director of the foundation. “We also found that many of them suffer urinary tract infections and stones in their bladders. Many of the female bus conductors also have uterus cancer.”
This issue is only one of several that Thai workers face on a daily basis, due to a huge disparity between the rich and the working class. Problems like these and many other factors have actually resulted in a complex political crisis in the nation, leading to a military coup on May 22.
Somchai Jitsuchon, research director for inclusive development at the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI), said: “Even though it has shrunk, the rich-poor gap is still considered quite wide. Our social and political systems have given more opportunities to people in the establishment such as the rich and big business people.”
Thankfully, Bangkok’s bus conductors and unionists are starting to demand better working conditions. “Their working conditions are not good,” said Chutima Boonjai, secretary of the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority labor union. “They have to work long hours in the heat and when they are hungry, they cannot eat. When they want to go to the toilet, they cannot.”
She also pointed out that the bus drivers suffer problems like back pain and hemorrhoids. “The worst cases are cancers, strokes and high blood pressure because of tiring and hot working conditions.” That’s why it’s now becoming extremely difficult to hire people to work on Thai buses, especially at wages as low as 300 baht ($10) a day.
Chutima is now demanding that more toilets be placed along bus routes and bus terminals. That does sound like a good start to improving the conductors working conditions – hopefully things will get better for them soon!