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Thai unions urge government to ratify ILO Conventions 87 and 98

13 April, 2023Unions in Thailand are calling on the government to implement internationally recognized labour standards. However, the Thai government argues that the conventions cannot be ratified until domestic labour laws are amended and national security concerns addressed.

IndustriALL affiliates, the Confederation of Industrial Labour of Thailand (CILT) and the State Enterprise Employees Union of PTT Public Company Limited (PTTLU), have long campaigned for the ratification of ILO Convention 87 on freedom of association and the protection of the right to organise, and on ILO Convention 98 on the right to organise and bargain collectively. 

“The Thai government has the international obligation to protect workers' rights to form and join labour unions of their own choice. CILT urges the government to ratify ILO Convention 87 and 98 to protect Thai workers’ freedom of association and right to collective bargaining,”

said Apsorn Krissanasmit, the PTTLU chairperson.

Legal and institutional barriers in Thailand limit the ability for workers to exercise their rights. There is also little protection against discrimination, harassment, and retaliation against workers who seek to exercise their rights under the ILO conventions 87 and 98.

The country has faced ongoing political instability and has experienced several military coups that have weakened labour laws with the aim of maintaining national security.

The Labour Relations Act 1975 (LRA), covering private sector employees, and the State Enterprise Labour Relations Act (SELRA), covering state and public service employees, still contains many anti -union policies that violate the principle of freedom of association and collective bargaining.

Less than two per cent of the workforce in Thailand is organized and current legislation has helped employers to disrupt union activity without consequences. 

“The government should revise the draft bill based on the recommendations of the unions, and pass the LRA and SELRA amendments as soon as possible,” 

said Prasit Prasopsuk, Confederation of Industrial Labour of Thailand (CILT) president.

In 2015, IndustriALL Global Union filed a complaint with the Committee of Freedom of Association (CFA) at the ILO with evidence showing how employers in Thailand repeatedly violated workers’ right to organize, to bargain collectively and to take industrial action.

In October 2020, the government said it was in the process of revising LRA and SELRA, and that the amendments would pave the way for the ratification of ILO Convention 98. The government also looked into ratifying Convention 87.

The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) also filed a complaint with the US Trade Representative, demanding the US government withdraw the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP). The complaint led to the suspension of GSP for 573 Thai products in 2019.

In 2022, the Thai government published a draft amendment bill to the LRA, promising wider freedom of association. In response, CILT, PTTLU and the Thai Labour Solidarity Committee (TLSC) supported some of the amendments but disagreed with others arguing that the amendments were not enough to address the continued violations.

“Thailand must go through a demilitarization and democratization process to ensure the political power is always in the hands of elected civilian government leaders. Enlarging democratic space will increase the leverage of labour unions when their fundamental liberties are protected. The undemocratic provisions hindering the right to strike in the event of martial law or economic crisis must go,” 

said IndustriALL regional secretary Shinya Iwai.