Facing Harassment, State Enterprise Unions Call for Right to Strike

In this file photo dated April 18, 2017, Thai Airways International Union submitted a petition to Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha at Government House demanding the use of Article 44 to remove the airway's board of directors due to the lack of transparency. Photo: Matichon.
In this file photo dated April 18, 2017, Thai Airways International Union submitted a petition to Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha at Government House demanding the use of Article 44 to remove the airway's board of directors due to the lack of transparency. Photo: Matichon.

BANGKOK — An international alliance of 217 trade unions has lambasted the judicial harassment of unionists employed in Thai state enterprises, calling on the Thai government to fully recognize the rights of workers to unionize and strike.

“Thailand demonstrated some of the worst cases of union busting in the region through persistent judicial harassments and astronomical claims of damages against trade union leaders in the case of the State Railway of Thailand (SRT) and Thai Airway (TG),” said the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) in a statement released on Wednesday at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand.

Only 1.5 percent of Thailand’s 37.9 million strong labor force is unionized, while major state enterprise unions face legal harassment.

The Thai Airways case, which dates back to 2013 but is still being fought in the Supreme Court, began when union members staged a two-day protest to demand a pay rise after wages had been cut for years. Thai Airways sued union leaders for 326 million baht in damages to the airline’s reputation.

Chamsri Sukchoterat, an advisor to the union, said at the press conference that the demand for monetary compensation for reputational damage is baseless since the protest – which was not a strike – led to no flight cancellations.

“How did they calculate the damage to Thai Airways’ image?” asked Chamsri, adding that the national air carrier apparently used a formula based on the length of newspaper articles about the protest.

The ITUC statement came after the last military government, headed by then-junta leader and current Prime Minister Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, approved draft amendments to the 1975 Labor Relations Act and the 2000 State Enterprise Labor Relations Act in February 2019 to allow authorities to forcibly end strikes if there would be an economic or public benefit.

Meanwhile in the State Railway case, the Supreme Labor Court ruled in March 2018 that seven railway workers must pay 15 million baht in damages to the State Railway of Thailand. The case began with a train derailment in Trang province in 2009 that killed seven passengers and injured 88.

The month following the crash, the train union launched a campaign arguing that the accident was not a result of drivers’ negligence but the understaffing of workers, after a 1998 cabinet resolution introduced a policy of hiring only five new employees for every 100 outgoing employees.

“Under Thai labor relations laws, 80 percent of the workforce is prohibited from organizing in trade unions and bargaining collectively. Large number of workers, including migrant workers, fishers, farmers, and informal sector workers, are vulnerable to abuses and exploitation,” continued the confederation’s statement.