Last Updated: Friday, 16 February 2018, 15:01 GMT

2016 ITUC Global Rights Index - Thailand

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 9 June 2016
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2016 ITUC Global Rights Index - Thailand, 9 June 2016, available at: [accessed 19 February 2018]
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.

Airline tries to destroy union by suing for damages over collective agreement: On 10 August 2015, four union leaders from Thai Airways International Union (TG Union) were ordered to pay over nine million US dollars in damages to Thai Airways, in a case involving peaceful protests in 2013 that resulted in a collective agreement.

The collective agreement was signed by the union and management in January 2013, after a two-day protest oversalaries and job security. The agreement granted increased pay and benefits not only for the workers but also for management level workers – including the airline's then acting president. A year later, however, in January 2014, Thai Airways filed a damage suit of USD 9,281,349 against four of the union's leaders who had signed the collective agreement with its management. The courts found in the airline's favour in August 2015.

In January 2016 the TG union together with the State Enterprise Workers Relations Confederation (SERC) and the International Transport Workers' Federation lodged a complaint with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) about the government of Thailand's failure to protect workers' rights.

Specifically, the complaint noted that the principle of freedom of association was not enshrined in law.

New law used to repress peaceful union protest and intimidate leaders: On 6 January 2016, three police units backed up by military forces were used to break up a protest rally by 500 locked-out workers at Japanese-owned auto-part supplier Sanko Gosei outside the Ministry of Labour in Bangkok. The government invoked new powers under the Public Assembly Act 2015, which carries a penalty of up to ten years in prison for causing a disturbance or disruption of public services.

More than 600 Sanko Gosei workers, all union members, were locked out from their factory on 20 December 2015 after negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement and bonuses broke down. The company claimed that it was unprofitable. In the meantime, however, casual workers were brought in to replace the locked out workers. The Sanko Gosei Workers Union accuses the company of using the dispute to bust the union and replace permanent workers with subcontractors.

After the rally was broken up, two union leaders, Chalee Loysoong, Vice President of the Thai Labour Solidarity Committee (TLSC) and Amorndech Srimuang, President of the Sanko Gosei Workers Union, were questioned by the authorities for about four hours. During this time their phones and ID cards were temporarily confiscated and they were escorted at all times, even to the bathroom. The union leaders had taken part in mediation negotiations with Sanko Gosei and the Ministry of Labour during the day, as the rally was taking place outside.

The intimidation continued the next day when Wilaiwan Saetia, the President of the TLSC, was followed from the factory to her house by four or five military officers both in uniform and plainclothes. Yongyut Mentapao, Vice President of the TLSC, also reported that he had been followed by military and police officers from unidentified units.

The following week, on Wednesday 13 January 2016, five military officers visited Wilaiwan Saetia at the office of the Om Noi/ Om Yai Labour Union in Samut Sakhon Province at around 8.00 p.m. At the discussion, which lasted until about 11.00 p.m., the officers cited their authority under Section 44 of the Interim Charter, which gives officers absolute power to maintain security, and informed the TLSC leader that henceforward she had to inform the military first before making any political moves.

Organising prevented in both law and practice: Thai law denies the majority of the country's 39 million workers their trade union rights. Restrictions on organising make it very difficult for temporary workers to join a union – and half of the workers in Thailand's industrial workforce are temporary. The use of contract labour is also rife, heavily limiting unionisation, while foreign migrant workers – about ten per cent of the workforce – are prohibited by law from organising or holding union office. This situation and a string of labour rights abuses led the global union Industriall to file a complaint with the ILO on 7 October 2015, World Day for Decent Work, for violations of freedom of association and the right to organise. Industriall points out that the law fails to provide the basic rights of freedom of association and collective bargaining to about 75 per cent of the workforce of 39 million people. As a result, Thailand has the lowest unionisation rate in southeast Asia, at 1.5 per cent.

The complaint lists 18 cases of abuses of fundamental trade union rights, including many cases of workers being sacked simply for belonging to a trade union. In one case, the employer sacked 60 per cent of the workforce and replaced them with migrant labour to prevent the formation of a trade union. It is difficult for workers to seek redress. Even when the courts have declared worker dismissals illegal, little is done by authorities to enforce the rulings. Companies are allowed to carry on excluding and intimidating trade union leaders.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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