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Healthy Conundrum

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HEALTHY CONUNDRUM

By Andrew Biggs

“Khun Andrew, please give me some words of support. I applied for a job and wasn’t accepted. I’m soooooo upset.”

This plaintive tweet arrived last Tuesday.

Had it been a few short years ago it would have been an email. A few short years before that the student would have put it on paper, stuck it in an envelope, and took it to the post office to buy a stamp. Ah but my age is showing.

The tweet came from a student, Suchada, and the above quote is my own translation from the original Thai.

Suchada is a 22-year-old Bangkok girl who just graduated from a good university and applied for a job at a bank. She got knocked back.

Her despondency was understandable; I remember when I was 17 being rejected for a job at McDonald’s Sunnybank. “We just don’t think you’d fit into the McDonald’s family,” the pimple-faced manager told me with a jowly smile.

In retrospect he was right. I can’t imagine what emotional scars I’d be wearing today had I agreed to join a family where the father figure was a clown looking like something straight out of Stephen King’s It. I’d have kept the bathroom door locked, that’s for sure. But back to Suchada.

Having worked in the youth media in Thailand for two decades, I have received similar letters, emails and tweets before.

I am normally very sympathetic to this recurring theme but firm in my reply: “Give yourself a day to get over your disappointment, then pick yourself up and apply all over again at some other bank. And come back and see me after you’ve been rejected ten times.”

I always thought that was good advice. Diligence and enthusiasm will always win out when it comes to job hunting. I believed that up until very recently, that is, but now I’m not so sure.

My turnaround is all due to my friend Nut, whose predicament came to a head this week as I discovered 24 hours before Suchada’s tweet.

Like anywhere in the world, finding a job in Thailand can be difficult and takes a lot of perseverance. There are actually a lot of jobs out there in Thai offices and factories for bachelor degree holders. The pay isn’t fantastic, but at least it’s work.

My friend Nut has a bachelor’s degree. He worked in administration for a large factory in Lad Krabang. He’s quiet and diligent and gets the job done, as evidenced by the fact he stayed at his job for eight years.

As he reached his late-thirties he decided he needed more money and applied for a new job and got it. He quit his old job on a Friday and started work at the new factory in Lardphrao on Monday.

By Friday he was sacked.

The reason? Nut is HIV positive. And in Thailand, that means you cannot get a job.

It’s not like you could tell he has HIV. He runs mini marathons and works out every day. He visits his doctor every three months for his blood count and takes his medicine; his CD4 count is very high.

In Thailand you are almost always required to get a medical check-up before starting a new job, and this includes an HIV test. The new company asked Nut to get his medical test on Wednesday. Nut came up HIV positive; he was jobless by the weekend.

At this point things were grim for Nut – much more than Suchada’s self-imagined quagmire – but Nut can be a pretty determined kinda guy. Within two weeks he had found a new administration job at a factory in Silom.

Silom Road is the center of every sexually communicable disease known to man, and you would think a factory situated there would turn a blind eye to such things, but no. In the second week of his work he was informed by HR he would need a medical. The usual two-step shuffle ensued – Nut went to hospital. Nut was shown the door.

Five times. This has now happened to Nut five times in the space of four months.

One job he was even “flavor of the month” except that he didn’t last a month. He was actually “flavor of the three weeks”.

It was a big toy factory here (patrolled by Rottweilers!) out in Samut Prakan and Nut was in charge of counting stock. The last person who did the job was slovenly and stole stuff on the side, and Nut did neither of these things.

This was a family company and the owner warmed to him for his accuracy and diligence.

When the results of his medical came in, however, the same owner went ballistic.

He shouted about him being HIV positive in front of other staff. “I don’t want you infecting anybody else! Get out of here or I’ll set the dogs on you!” the owner barked at Nut, who gathered his belongings and quickly left.

I called my friend Lek this week, a mover and shaker in the HR world in Bangkok, and asked him about Nut’s situation. Surprise surprise … what those companies did was illegal. You cannot sack a person because he or she is HIV positive.

In fact, once an employee starts work there is no requirement for a medical check-up either. That has to be carried out before, since the act of starting work means the two parties have entered into a contract already.

In the real world things are different, and such labor laws are as valid as the ones that, say, outlaw prostitution in Thailand. Nut’s only recourse is to take the company to the Labor Court, where the company will tell the judge Nut was sacked owing to laziness, or inability to carry out duties, etc. Anything but that virus coursing through his veins.

Nut may have HIV, but he also has perseverance. He applied for a new job at a small paint factory and got it. The pay is good. Even better; there is no company regulation that requires a medical examination. He started work last Monday.

As for Suchada, what timing to be complaining about one job rejection when my friend Nut has had five in the time Suchada took to do her finals, graduate, and go celebrating with friends down in Pattaya.

I’m going to officially change my stock answer, too. No more “come back and see me after ten rejections”. Instead, it’s going to be: “Come to think of it, don’t come back and see me at all. Stop wallowing in your setbacks and get on with life.”

These are words I cannot use with Nut, who despite everything refuses to give up. And as his friend I must be a pillar of support.

Especially now. Last Tuesday, on day two of his work, the thinner smell in the paint factory was so bad Nut fainted. He is jobless once more.

/Andrew



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