The Global State of Workers' Rights - Thailand

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Thai law allows the establishment of private-sector trade unions, and workers can form and join such unions without prior authorization. However, the enforcement of legal protections for workers' rights is ineffective, and the law does not protect workers from employer reprisals for union activities prior to the registration of the union. Workers in state-owned enterprises can also organize, but civil servants, including teachers, cannot. Less than 4 percent of the total workforce in Thailand is unionized, though 11 percent of industrial workers and over 50 percent of state-enterprise workers belong to unions.

The State Enterprises Labor Relations Act prevents formal relationships between state-enterprise unions and private-sector unions, effectively splitting the labor movement. Organized labor in general suffers from infighting, corruption, and a lack of effective leadership.

Thailand has not ratified International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention No. 87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize (1948) or Convention No. 98 on the Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining (1949). The Labor Congress of Thailand, a trade union federation, lobbied the government to ratify these conventions in 2009 and continued to argue that the current Labor Relations Acts does not conform to international standards.

The law allows strikes in the private sector, though all strikes must be approved by 50 percent of the union membership. Strikes are forbidden in "essential services," which are defined much more broadly than in the ILO criteria. Labor unions mounted a number of strikes in 2009, including a controversial strike by state railway workers.

The law allows private-sector workers to bargain collectively, but in practice there is little genuine collective bargaining. Negotiations on issues such as wage increases have stemmed from legislation raising the minimum wage as opposed to collective bargaining.

Migrant workers are largely unprotected by Thai labor laws. The Ministry of Labor requires foreign workers to renew their temporary work status annually. Almost two-thirds of employed workers operate informally and are not protected under labor laws. Most informal workers serve in the agricultural, hotel, restaurant, wholesale, retail, and construction sectors.

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