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2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Thailand

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 9 June 2010
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Thailand, 9 June 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c4fec5428.html [accessed 20 December 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 67,800,000
Capital: Bangkok
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 100 – 105 – 138 – 182

The legal framework is not conducive to trade union activities. In the private sector, employers frustrated union formation and harassed and intimidated union workers to accept unilaterally imposed wage cuts and lay-offs. Many workers were dismissed because of their union activities and several cases of union-busting occurred. Thousands of Burmese migrant workers protested against abuse by their employers.

Trade union rights in law

Despite initial guarantees, trade union rights are coupled with numerous excessive restrictions. The 2007 Constitution guarantees freedom of association and specifically mentions unions as one of the organisations that can be formed. However, several categories of workers enjoy limited or no freedom of association, including civil servants, teachers, and government officials. Non-nationals may not form a union, and may not be elected to union leadership posts. Loss of employment also means loss of union membership. A union's right to have advisors is limited, and they must be approved by the Ministry of Labour. Furthermore, a union can be dissolved if its membership dips below 25% of the eligible workforce. Only one union can be formed at each enterprise, and state enterprise unions may not affiliate with private sector labour congresses or federations.

While the right to collective bargaining is secured, only unions that represent at least 20% of the workforce may present bargaining demands, which must be voted on at the union's annual meeting or the union loses its right to engage in bargaining.

Strikes are prohibited in state enterprises, and civil servants do not have the right to strike. The government can also restrict any strike that would "affect national security or cause severe negative repercussions for the population at large". Finally, the list of "essential services" significantly exceeds the ILO definition.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2009

Background: Political turmoil continued between political factions supporting and opposing the former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The global economic downturn hit Thai workers very hard. Between 1 January and 7 May, Thailand's Department of Labour Protection and Welfare said that 1,003 factories had shut down, putting 84,876 workers out work. In the public sector, Thailand's railway workers had to strike to get the government's attention on serious safety issues. Migrant workers, especially from Burma, continued to suffer from exploitation and discrimination.

Registration refusal: The government continued to refuse to register the National Thai Teachers Union (NTTU), which is affiliated to Education International (EI).

Union organisers often dismissed: Employers regularly dismiss workers trying to form trade unions, especially when workers are awaiting registration of the union (and therefore not yet covered by the laws protecting them from anti-union discrimination). In other situations, they are dismissed for ostensibly non-union reasons invented by the employer and must challenge the firings in court.

Workers sacked for union activities: Over 500 workers from the Canadoil Asia Thai in Amata City Industrial Estate in Rayong went on strike on 22 January to protest against the dismissal in December 2008 of Canadoil Thailand Workers' Union President Mr. Prapat Methongchan and 18 union workers because of their union activities. The union had submitted a list of collective bargaining demands in December, and followed up with a petition in January to show support for its demands. On 27 January, management dismissed 78 workers who had signed the petition. The company has also intimidated and coerced union members to resign from the union and given pay increases to workers who do. Canadoil agreed to rehire 16 union officials in May after the union filed a complaint with the Ministry of Labour. The company pays the officials' salaries, but they are not required to report for work.

About 900 workers at the Kawasaki plant in Chonburi/Rayong Eastern Seaboard Industrial Zone went on strike on 22 June after management unilaterally changed the working time and then dismissed 11 union representatives who opposed the change. This was followed by a company announcement that 872 workers would be laid off. On 8 July, the strike ended when the plant union reached an agreement with management.

In May, the Japanese-owned NTN Nidec company in Rayong fired 103 workers, including the entire 13-member Executive Committee of the NTN Nidec Thailand Workers' Union. The company's action to dismiss the workers occurred in the midst of a union organising campaign and negotiations over salaries. A worker protest in May resulted in the company reinstating the dismissed workers, but the company continued to threaten and harass union members and officers.

Anti-union activities after railway strikes: Last year was a time of strikes and turmoil at the State Railway of Thailand (SRT). In June, the State Railway Workers' Union of Thailand (SRWUT) called a strike to protest against the state enterprise's restructuring plans. A fatal rail accident in October left seven passengers killed and many more wounded. The SRWUT claimed that staff fatigue was the cause of the accident, but the SRT refused to accept this explanation and dismissed the train driver and reduced the salaries of the driver's assistant and caretaker. In response, the SRWUT went on strike to demand that staff shortages be resolved and safety standards improved. The government recruited new employees in an attempt to break the strike.

Later that month the SRT filed two lawsuits with the Central Labour Court that sought the dismissal of ITF railway section Vice-Chair for the Asia Pacific region, SRWUT Vice-Chair Mr. Pinyo Ruenpet, as well as six other SRWUT leaders and members. The lawsuit also sought damages from SRWUT members in the amount of 70 million baht (USD 2.12 million). On 2 November, the SRWUT demanded that Thai PM Abhisit Vejjajiva (Abhisit) reverse the dismissal of six SRT workers who had participated in the strike. All the court cases and dismissals were still pending at the end of the year.

Triumph International mounts global offensive against union workers: On 3 December, two unions representing Triumph International workers, the Triumph International (Thailand) Labour Union (TITLU) and the Bagong Pagkakaisa ng mga Manggagawa sa Triumph International Philippines (BPMTI) or New Unity of Workers of Triumph International), filed an OECD complaint against the Swiss multinational for laying off thousands of workers at its factories in Thailand and the Philippines. The complaint states that Triumph failed to enter negotiations with the workers' unions and has therefore violated the OECD guidelines for multinational enterprises as well as ILO Convention 158. In the complaint, the unions reveal a hidden agenda of Triumph to get rid of its most outspoken workforce in both countries.

Triumph International's subsidiary Body Fashion (Thailand) Ltd. (Body Fashion) had announced that it would lay off 1,930 employees effective 28 August because of the global economic downturn. However, TITLU advisor Ms. Jittra Kotchadet insisted that the real reason for the layoffs was the company's wish to move its manufacturing base to a non-union plant in Nakhon Sawan. The Body Fashion workers subject to lay-offs were primarily involved in the discontinued swimwear production, but a select group of bra makers were also dismissed, including most of the members of the trade union committee. On 6 August, three TITLU leaders led a protest of about 400 union members to petition the Thai PM Abhisit Vejjajiva to help in their dispute with Body Fashion, which resulted in the police issuing arrest warrants for two TITLU officials, Secretary General Ms. Bunrod Saiwong and advisor Ms. Jitra Kotchadet. The officials surrendered to the police on 18 November but were released on bail the same day.

Flagrant union-busting at Tesco: Nine employees where dismissed for attempting to form a union for supervisors at the Tesco-Lotus Company distribution centre warehouse in Ayutthaya Province on 6 February. Thirty-six supervisors initially signed a petition to form the union, but the company intervened before the petition was filed with the Ministry of Labour (MoL). Management held meetings with union supporters at work which were followed by home visits to their spouses and parents, and managed to pressure 27 employees to withdraw authorisation. The company then fired the remaining nine union supporters while they were at the MoL to register their union. Tesco then refused the union's request to bargain, saying the nine union founders were no longer employees.

Workers locked out for petitioning company: On 25 March, 383 workers were locked out at the Michelin tyre factory in Laem Chabang, Chonburi Province, after they refused to withdraw their names from a petition submitted two weeks earlier. The petition called on management to consult with worker representatives on unilaterally imposed wage cuts and the effects of a downturn in the tyre market. Before imposing the lockout, Michelin responded to the petition by suspending eight worker representatives from the Michelin Laem Chabang Workers' Union of Thailand and imposing a 35% pay cut on workers who refused to disavow the petition. Although the company agreed to end the retaliation and lift the lockout in April due to international union pressure, after the settlement was made it refiled criminal charges against workers.

Systematic union-busting at Thai Summit Group: Eleven workers were fired on 30 July for trying to organise a union at the Thai Summit Fujikiko Kurata Manufacturing Company, part of the Thai Summit Group, located in Eastern Seaboard Industrial Estate, Rayong, Chonburi Province. On 14 September, the workers filed a complaint over the dismissal with the Labor Relations Committee. Earlier in the year, the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association cited the Thai Summit Eastern Seaboard Auto Parts Industry Co., Ltd., also part of the Thai Summit Group, for engaging in a systematic pattern of obstruction and violation of the worker rights to form and join a union. Over 400 Thai Summit Eastern Seaboard workers had joined the Ford and Mazda Thailand Workers' Union in November 2006 but were harassed and coerced until all union members had resigned under duress.

Burmese migrant workers protest against abuse: About 5,000 Burmese workers in Saha Farm Co. Ltd. (99) poultry in Samueng Dow, Ratchaburi Province, went on strike on December 18 because of supervisory abuse and violations of Thai labour law. The Burmese were also paid lower wages and provided less benefits than their Thai co-workers. On 18-20 December, more than 3,000 Burmese workers, almost all women, protested at the Top Form Brassiere Mae Sot Factory, Tak Province, after four Thai security officers assaulted two female relatives of an employee on 18 December. Protests resumed on 21 December when workers demanded the reinstatement of workers who were dismissed because of the protest as well as welfare benefits under Thai labour law. Eighteen Burmese nationals who were sold as fishers to two Thai captains were released in 2009 thanks to a joint operation involving the Seafarers' Union of Burma (SUB), the Labour Rights Promotion Network and the Thai Department of Special Investigation.

Sawit Keawan, General Secretary of Thailand's State Enterprise Workers Relations Confederation (SERC) also filed a complaint with ILO alleging that the Royal Thai Government is in violation of ILO Convention 19, Equality of Treatment (Accident Compensation), by failing to provide Burmese migrant workers access to the Social Security Office's Workmen's Compensation Fund following accidents at work. On 20 October 2009, Nang Noom Mae Seng, a female Burmese migrant worker who was left paralyzed after a work related injury in 2006 and two other Burmese migrants workers, petitioned the Supreme Court of Thailand to overturn a Social Security Office's regulation they claim discriminates against migrant workers in Thailand by denying migrant workers benefits for work related injuries and illnesses that are provided to Thai workers. The commencement of a nationality verification process for Burmese migrants in Thailand – which would place 2 million Burmese migrants at high risk of exploitation – led the State Enterprise Workers Relations Confederation, the Human Rights and Development Foundation and the Thai Labour Solidarity Committee to petition the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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