Stop the repression of Thailand’s workers and let them organise

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LabourThailand Labour rightsMigration

Half of Thailand’s industrial workers are temporary, yet the Thai government, employers and the law itself make it almost impossible for unions to organise them. When workers do try, they face being fired.

That’s why when IndustriALL affiliates mobilised worldwide on 7 October to stop the increasing use of contract work, we chose this day to file a complaint against Thailand with the International Labour Organization (ILO) for violating worker and trade union rights.

Trade union repression, enshrined in the law and carried out by employers, has led Thailand to have the lowest unionisation rate in south-east Asia, at 1.5 per cent.

The law fails to provide the basic rights of freedom of association and collective bargaining to about 75 per cent of the workforce of 39 million people.

Our complaint lists case after case of hundreds of workers being sacked simply for being trade unionists. One company fired and replaced 60 per cent of its workforce with contract workers to stop the unionisation of its plant.

Even when the courts have declared worker dismissals illegal, little is done by authorities to enforce the rulings. Companies are allowed to carry on excluding and intimidating trade union leaders.


Migrants victimised

Expat migrant workers, an estimated 10 per cent of the workforce, are particularly vulnerable. Thai law prohibits anyone except Thai nationals by birth from organising or serving on a union committee or office. And as so few Thai nationals are employed alongside migrant workers, they have little chance to organise.

As a result, migrants are susceptible to exploitation, wage theft, and trafficking for slave labour, as exposed in Thailand’s shrimp and commercial fishing industries.

Workers in Thailand are the backbone of the economy and must be protected. The day after the complaint was filed, the government agreed to meet Thai union leaders and we welcome this move as a positive step.

The Thai government has promised to ratify ILO conventions 87 and 98 on freedom of association and the right to organise. They have come so close in the past. Now it is time to act.