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Unity to fight precarious work in Thailand

30 July, 2014The number of people in precarious work in Thailand has reached a critical limit. Last April, Yongyuth, the general secretary of IndustriALL Global Union affiliate The National Metal Federation (TEAM), gave several examples from the garment, electronics and auto industries, where less than 50 per cent of the workers have permanent contracts

In the paper sector, many unions have lost their bargaining power and some even exist by name only. The newly created Confederation of IndustriALL Labour of Thailand (CILT) bringing together the auto, metal, textile, chemical and petrol workers of Thailand vows to fight precarious work.

According to the Ministry of Labour, agency workers are classified as employees of the service sector. Under the law, unions can only represent employees of their company or workers in the same industrial sector. This prevents unions in the manufacturing and energy sectors to organise and bargain for agency workers, even when they perform the same work as permanent and direct hired workers.

Trade unions also face the opposition of the companies. Even though unions are allowed to organise and represent employees of sub-contractors in the same industrial sector, often they cannot. One example is when Unocal/Chevron in Thailand refused to let the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) cover outsourced workers on the ground that these workers were not company employees, and despite the fact that the sub-contract workers worked under the principal company’s supervision and control.

But despite the challenges and difficulties, IndustriALL Global Union’s Thai affiliates are fighting to find solutions to improve working conditions for precarious workers.

TEAM advises local unions on how to recruit agency workers. As a result, the local union organising the BMW plant in Thailand has now recruited around 100 agency workers. In 2012, IndustriALL affiliate the Paper and Printing Unions’ Federation (PPFT) won a milestone victory when getting the government certificate on recognition of union representation for agency workers, highlighting a disguised employment relationship.

Thai trade unions have also multiplied efforts to regularize fixed terms workers or outsourced/temporary agency workers, in order to include them in the CBA. Last year, 250 agency workers at Kurusapha printing company were converted to directly hired workers and joined the Kurusapha union.

And as a last resort agency workers can organise their own unions. At Chevron, agency workers have created two agency workers unions that have successfully bargained a new CBA, bringing new rights and benefits for their members.

Notwithstanding, employers continually challenge these victories. In this difficult context, unity among the Thai affiliates through the CILT is even more important and necessary to continue the struggle and achieve sustainable results.