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2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Thailand

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 8 June 2011
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Thailand, 8 June 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4ea661dfc.html [accessed 26 July 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. Union members suffered discrimination due to their union activities, and there were overt indications that the government would support employers over workers in labour disputes. Employers remained fiercely anti-union. Government attacks on migrant workers continued.

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. Several categories of workers enjoy limited or no freedom of association, however, including civil servants, teachers, and government officials. A law drafted in 2010 would allow civil servants to organise.

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 these 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 2010 civil servants draft law would not alter this situation. 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 2010

Background: In March, the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) began large demonstrations in Bangkok calling for the dissolution of Parliament and new elections. In April and May, Thai military forces used lethal force to disperse protesters from rally sites near Parliament and a Bangkok shopping district. In the attacks, 91 people were killed. Two journalists were among the dead, and another 15 reporters were wounded. A preliminary state probe into the violence indicated that Thai Special Forces fired into a Buddhist temple grounds where several thousand protesters had taken refuge on 19 May. Due to protests, the government proclaimed the Emergency Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situation in Bangkok and other provinces on 7 April. The decree allowed the Centre for Resolution of the Emergency Situation (CRES) to detain anyone without charge for up to 30 days in unofficial places of detention and gave officials effective immunity from prosecution for most acts committed while implementing the decree. Free-speech activists said authorities had blocked at least 110,000 internet sites. Thailand slipped 23 places to 153rd (out of 178) on the press freedom index.

The government implemented a National Verification (NV) and registration process for all migrant workers in Thailand who were already working in Thailand with valid work permits. Under the NV program, migrant workers were required to verify their nationality with their home country before they were re-issued legal work permits in Thailand. Those workers who failed to comply with the NV program were subject to deportation.

ILO decision on compensation for migrant workers: The State Enterprise Workers Relations Confederation (SERC) submitted a complaint to the ILO in June of 2009 that alleged that Thailand's current policy of denying compensation to migrant workers for work-related accidents and illnesses violated domestic and international labour standards. In February 2010, the ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations in its deliberations at the 99th International Labour Conference upheld the SERC complaint and directed the Thai government to provide migrant workers the same benefits and entitlement to work-related illness and injury as enjoyed by Thai nationals.

AutoAlliance attacks Ford-Mazda Thailand Union: AutoAlliance (Thailand) Co. Ltd. (AAT), a joint venture between Ford Motor Company and Mazda Motor Corporation, based at the Eastern Seaboard Industrial Estate (ESIE), locked out its Ford-Mazda Thailand Union (FMTU) employees on 5 January after negotiations broke down over wages and bonus issues. The plant's 2,200 full-time workers were given until 6 January to either report to work and accept the AAT's offer on wages and bonus or face a lockout. Employees accepting the offer would be guaranteed full pay and benefits and receive a full-year bonus. During the lockout AAT utilised uniformed and nonuniformed police and Thai military personnel to intimidate workers demonstrating against the lockout. The owner of the ESIE filed charges against six union leaders for damages caused by blocked traffic during the union picketing. The lockout ended on 10 February when AAT and FMTU negotiated a settlement to the dispute.

In a related matter, subcontracted workers at the plant, whom AAT hires through a HR Digest Co., Ltd. (HRD), and who work on the production line with FTMU members, joined the FMTU during the lockout and requested that HRD enter into negotiations for a collective agreement. In response, AAT locked out the subcontracted workers and HRD dismissed 108 employees. On 15 November, the Labour Relations Commission ruled against 80 dismissed HRD workers who had filed a complaint that alleged they were illegally dismissed for their union activities after they joined the FMTU. The workers plan to appeal the decision to the Provincial Labour court.

Government ignores labour committee findings: On 16 January, Transport Minister Sohpon Zarum rejected the State Enterprise Labour Relations Committee's (SELRC) order to reinstate six former State Railway of Thailand (SRT) employees. The employees, all members of the State Railway Workers' Union of Thailand (SRWUT), were dismissed after a strike in October, 2009. Sophon directed the SRT to appeal the decision to the Labour Court.

Hicom hits new low in retaliating against union members: After Hicom Automotive Plastics (Thailand) Co., Ltd. (Hicom) in Rayong Province, a company that manufactures auto parts and plastics, ended a lock-out against its union on 29 January, the company retaliated against members of the Hicom Workers' Union of Thailand (HWUT) when they returned to work. Hicom removed 50 HWUT members from their regular jobs and ordered them to clean and paint the factory. Another group of 27 HWUT members were removed from their factory jobs and directed to work in an isolated warehouse. On 16 February, the union filed a complaint to contest Hicom's actions. In an act that the union believes to be connected to the ongoing dispute with the company, a union leader was stabbed in the stomach by an unknown assailant on 26 February while travelling home from work.

Tycoons evicts striking workers: Over 400 workers from Tycoons Worldwide Group (Thailand) Public Co., Ltd. (Tycoons) in Rayong Province who are represented by the Tycoons Workers' Union of Thailand (TWUT) went on strike on 18 May in support of their demands for increased wages, better health and safety provisions, and improved working conditions. In response to the strike, the company hired members of the Thai Navy to guard the plant. In addition, one union striker and his wife were seriously beaten by an unknown assailant, believed to be a company-hired thug, when they travelled home from a union meeting. As the strike continued through the month of June, Tycoons evicted strikers from company dormitories and hired strikebreakers. Tycoons is headquartered in Taiwan and manufactures metal wire, rods, bars, and fasteners, as well as other specialised metal parts.

Arrest of former ICEM leader: Former ICEM (International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions) Projects Coordinator and human rights activist Somyot Pruksakasemsuk was detained on 24 May under the provisions of the Emergency Decree on Government Administration in States and held in custody at the Royal Thai Army Cavalry Center, Saraburi (Adisorn Army Camp). No charges were ever filed against Somyot, but an arrest warrant was issued for Somyot and Suthachai Yimprasert from Chulalongkom University after the two held a press conference on 21 May for the 24th of June Democracy Group, an organisation critical of the ruling government. Somyot was released on 13 June after an outpouring of protest against his confinement from the international trade union and human rights community.

Michelin continues discrimination against union members: The Tripartite Industrial Relations Committee (IRC) ruled on 24 June that France-based Michelin Tyre Company's (Michelin) management at its plant in Laem Chabang, Chonburi Province, violated the provisions of the Industrial Relations Act of 1975. The decision was in relation to a dispute that arose in March 2009 when plant workers signed a petition to protest the company's unilaterally imposed 35% wage cut. Management locked out employees who refused to remove their names from the petition. Twenty-two union members were arrested, suspended from their jobs, and faced criminal charges filed with police by company officials.

The IRC noted that Michelin discriminated against 12 union members of the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' (ICEM)-affiliated Petroleum and Chemical Workers' Federation (PCFT-ICEM) whom it had previously reinstated on 18 January – but not to their former jobs. The IRC had ordered management to reinstate the 12 workers to jobs inside the factory equivalent to those they held previously within ten days of the decision. Michelin did not comply fully with the court decision when it reinstated the 12 workers on 18 January, and the 12 refused their new job assignments, filing a complaint with the IRC. With respect to the criminal charges filed against union members, a Chonburi Provincial court set a hearing for 4 November 2011 to address the company's charge that the workers blocked the exit to the factory.

Severance for illegal dismissal: On 21 July, the Thai Labour Court ordered True Corporation (True), a large Thai conglomerate involved primarily in telecommunications, to provide compensation to nine workers terminated over three years ago because of their activities to form a union at one of True's subsidiaries. Although the court ruled the terminations violated the law, it did not order the employees' reinstatement. Instead, the court directed the company to provide severance pay. After the ruling, True announced they would appeal the decision to the Supreme Court. The dispute dates back to 28 February 2007, when the nine employees were laid off before being able to register their newly formed union with the government.

Human trafficking: According to a federal indictment that the FBI has called the largest human-trafficking case in US history, six recruiters have been accused of luring 400 Thai labourers to the US and forcing them to work. The indictment alleges that four employees of labour recruitment firm Global Horizons Manpower Inc. and two Thailand-based recruiters orchestrated the scheme. It states the recruiters lured the workers to the US with false promises of lucrative jobs, then confiscated their passports, failed to honour their employment contracts and threatened to deport them. The six defendants include Global Horizons President and CEO Mordechai Orian, 45; Director of International Relations Ms. Pranee Tubchumpol, 44; Hawaii regional supervisor Shane Germann, 41; and onsite field supervisor Sam Wongsesanit, 39. Two of the defendants were arrested on 2 September. The Thailand recruiters were identified as Ms. Ratawan Chunharutai and Ms. Podjanee Sinchai.

Government gives training on union surveillance: In a document presented to employers at a management roundtable on 23 September in Rayong Province, the Deputy Commander of Rayong Provincial Police presented procedures for both the police and employers to follow in labour disputes. The document advised employers to have closed-circuit surveillance cameras (CCTV) to monitor employee meeting places and, in the event of a labour dispute, to use the system to record worker activities. The procedures also direct employers to set up a command centre to observe workers and deploy guards if there is a labour dispute. The procedures state both uniformed and plainclothes police will be assigned to all demonstrations and the police will videotape and photograph worker activities. If workers hold a peaceful public protest, employers are requested to provide background information on leaders and the names of those joining the rally. The procedures further state that the police will provide a negotiation team to work in conjunction with an employer's team provided in negotiations with the workers. Lastly, if police file a court petition to restrict the actions of strikers, the procedures require employers to assign legal counsel to work with police on the petition. Rayong Province includes the large Hemaraj Eastern Seaboard Industrial Estate with over 220 auto assembly and parts manufacturing plants.

Company targets union members with bogus theft charges: The G4S Security Service (Thailand) Co. Ltd. (G4S) in Bangkok terminated 30 members of the Security Cash Transportation Workers' Union (SCTWU) on 11 November on fabricated charges of theft and negligence after THB 12,000,000 (USD 400,000) went missing from the company's vault. Seven of the fired workers serve as SCTWU executive committee members. The union claims the company is using the alleged theft to bust the union because the vault was not under the care of any of the fired workers at the time the money went missing. SCTWU has contested the dismissals by filing a complaint with the Pathumtani Provincial Labour Court.

Goodyear locks out striking workers: The Goodyear Tyre Makers' Union (GTMU), which is part of the PCFT-ICEM and represents workers at Goodyear (Thailand) Public Co. Ltd. (Goodyear) in Pathumthani Province north of Bangkok, went on strike from 18-23 November in support of its demand for equal pay for workers doing the same job, improved benefits and shorter working hours. The strike was called after numerous meetings with the company and government mediation efforts failed to achieve a new agreement. Management informed workers that if they did not end the strike and return to work, they would lose their benefits. Goodyear locked out the striking workers and told the union that it would not end the lockout unless the union agreed to separate the work rules from the collective bargaining agreement, which would give Goodyear more flexibility to dismiss workers. Goodyear has locked out 620 GTMU members since 22 November.

Employers show anti-union attitudes: Union leaders and members were dismissed on numerous occasions during the year as they attempted to form unions or negotiate bargaining agreements. Employers remained anti-union. The list includes the following: Thai Sobhi Kohgei Company (Sobhi) dismissed 11 Thai Sobhi Workers' Union (TSWU) leaders and members on 18 February, after the union submitted its proposals for a collective bargaining agreement; Chintana Apparel Company (Chintana) dismissed all eight members of the Chintana and Affiliates Workers' Union (CAWU) Executive Committee on 27 February, with the charges stemming from the union's holding of a membership meeting to provide an update on negotiations with the company; Japan-based Nikon (Thailand) (Nikon) dismissed 34 members of the Nikon Workers' Union of Thailand (NWUT) on 28 February after union leaders presented bargaining demands for a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA); at Nikon (Thailand) Co the chairman of the Nikon labour union, Thongchai Sitthidet, said management suspended nine labour union board members on 24 March after they encouraged fellow workers to demand better benefits from the company; Thai Fukoku Co. Ltd (Fukoku) dismissed 13 union leaders on 21 June after they formed a union on 14 June; TFO Tech (Thailand) Co. Ltd. dismissed eight Thailand Autoparts and Metal Workers' Union (TAM) negotiating team members on 22 June after the TAM submitted bargaining demands for a new CBA; SKB Tech (Thailand) Co., Ltd., (SKB) dismissed the President and Secretary General of the SKB Connection Labour Union that recently formed at the SKB factory; B. Mayer Thailand and T.G. Technology Co., Ltd dismissed 15 members of the B. Mayer and T.G. Worker's Union's Executive Committee and 13 other union members on 2 October, shortly after the union had formed; and Sumitomo Rubber Co., Ltd, dismissed four workers on 12 October after they formed a new union and submitted collective bargaining proposals to company officials.

Migrant workers still face exploitation: While the government introduced a National Verification (NV) and registration process for migrant workers, little changed at the level of exploitation at the hands of Thai authorities or in the workplace. In July, the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM) called for an independent investigation into the deportation of Burmese migrants because those deported under the government's NV program suffered human rights abuses at the hands of regime-backed ethnic armies in Karen State. Other repressive measures against migrant workers were also implemented with the Labour Ministry issuing a regulation requiring migrant workers to contribute to a repatriation fund starting on 1 January 2011. Under the regulation, Burmese and Laotian workers are required to pay a total of THB400 a month while a Cambodian worker needs to pay THB350 a month through payroll deductions by their employer. The money will be used to cover the government's expenses in the event a migrant worker is deported. Authorities also decided that migrant workers should not have children. The Labour, Social Development and Human Security ministries want to impose contraception on migrant workers. The Labour Ministry said it was focusing on the boom of children born to migrant workers, with the Social Development and Human Security Ministry saying such children were prone to be victimised by human trafficking due to their illegal residence.

Migrant workers strike: About 300 Burmese migrant workers went on strike at Asian Seafood on 21 August when the company changed the payment of overtime from the legally required method to a production/piece rate based on each kilogram of shrimp the worker cleaned. Thai authorities arrested and detained eight workers in connection with the strike. More than 1,000 Burmese workers at the Dechapanich Fishing Net Factory (Dechapanich), one of the largest nylon fishnet factories in the world, went on strike on 9 September to support their demand for reinstatement of six co-workers dismissed by the company the day before. The company dismissed the six workers for taking more than three days of leave each month. When the six dismissed workers demanded the return of their work documents, they found that the company had written the word "cancelled" next to their work visa. Also, the workers' overseas workers identification card, issued by Burma's Ministry of Labour, had been altered by putting photos and information other than that of the worker. Without proper work documents, the workers could not look for other work and were subject to deportation. The workers also complained that they were receiving THB 140 (USD 4.65) per day while the statutory minimum wage for Khon Kaen was THB 157 (USD 5.30) per day and that they did not receive any overtime pay. On 14 September, local immigration authorities reinstated the work visas for the dismissed workers, and on 15 September, Dechapanich agreed to return work documents to all employees. However, as of 8 October, there were still about 369 migrant workers who had still not received their documents.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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