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Thai government meets IndustriALL following complaint to ILO

17 December, 2015IndustriALL Global Union general secretary, Jyrki Raina, urged the Thai government to improve workers rights and freedoms in a meeting with the Ministry of Labour in Bangkok on 14 December 2015. 

It follows IndustriALL’s official complaint to the International Labour Organization (ILO) against the Thai government in October for its failure to protect worker and trade union rights in the country.

Raina, who was joined by representatives from IndustriALL trade union affiliates at the meeting in Bangkok, told Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Labour Puntrik Smiti:

“We want Thailand to offer millions of good quality jobs for workers. We love Thailand, we just don’t want Thailand to destroy its workers.”

He added that there are many conflicts in the workplace and it is difficult for workers to join a trade union, leading to the lowest unionization rate in South East Asia at 1.5 per cent of the workforce.

Even as the meeting was taking place, workers from Japanese technology company, Sanko Gozei, were demonstrating outside the ministry building. The workers, who are affiliated to IndustriALL through Thai trade union, TEAM, are protesting at being paid only 75 per cent of their wages as the company claims financial difficulties.

However, management and supervisors’ wages have not been reduced. At the same time, Sanko Gozei is demanding employees work overtime and recruiting subcontract and migrant workers. IndustriALL will be raising the matter with the company’s headquarters in Japan, said Raina.

Raina also urged the Thai Government to ratify ILO Conventions 87 and 98, related to freedom of association and collective bargaining. He added that the deep flaws in both the State Enterprises law and Labour Relations Act are a key obstacle to better worker protection in Thailand. The Permanent Secretary said that the laws are currently under review by government law agency, the Office of the Council of State.

Raina raised the issue of Thailand’s preferential trade status with the USA, which will be subject to a hearing by the US Congress on 14 and 15 January.

The Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) trade status is worth an estimated US$2 billion to Thailand every year. The petition has been submitted by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) and alleges that Thailand is not meeting the GSP programme’s country eligibility criteria on worker rights with respect to freedom of association, collective bargaining, acceptable conditions of work, and forced labour, including with respect to migrant workers. 

The European Union stopped all GSP privileges for Thailand on 1 January 2015.

Prior to the meeting at the Ministry of Labour, IndustriALL’s seven Thai affiliates convened to discuss their most pressing grievances. Labour leaders complained of a lack of assistance from the Ministry of Labour, “If we can’t go there, where can we go?” asked one.

Many said that labour violations are increasing, while the Assembly Act is being used to control trade union gatherings, with the courts becoming the instruments of employers.

The unions agreed to focus on Thailand’s ratification of ILO Conventions 87 and 98, to press for stronger labour laws, and to organize more workers particularly in Thailand’s industrial zones.

IndustriALL together with the Solidarity Center in Thailand have hired seven members to organize and train more workers in the country.

Robert Pajkovski from the Solidarity Center, who was also at the reunion, described the labour situation in Thailand as ‘dismal’.

“Thailand has a labour market designed to promote conflict and frustrate workers all the way. Every week a union is being destroyed,” said Pajkovski.

IndustriALL was last in Thailand in May 2014 for the Asia-Pacific Regional Conference. Just days later, a military junta seized power in the country and labour relations and human rights violations took a turn for the worse.