Former Triumph workers celebrating New Year at Ministry of Labour

For over two months, former Triumph workers have rallied at the Ministry of Labour, despite the ministry’s threats to remove them from its premises.  Two of their leaders have returned from a campaign trip in Europe. 

On 26 Dec, about 300 former and current Triumph workers and activists gathered at their rally site at the Ministry of Labour to hold New Year activities.  

 

From 29 Nov to 24 Dec, Thanyathorn Khirithawornphat and Jitra Kotchadet travelled to 7 countries in Europe, including Switzerland, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium and Austria.  The trip was sponsored by the Clean Clothes Campaign.  They met labour unions, the media, politicians and human rights activists, and told them about the layoff.

Thanyathorn said that they had faxed a letter to Triumph headquarters in Switzerland, asking to meet their executives, but the headquarters refused, saying that the letter came too late, and told them to return to Thailand for negotiations. 

‘In Thailand, the company has never negotiated with us.  When we went to Europe, they told us to come back to negotiate in Thailand,’ Thanyathorn said.

They finally presented their letter to Triumph headquarters, but the company sent representatives without decision-making power to receive it.  While they were in Europe, their fellow workers also presented the letter to the company’s office in Thailand, but the company told them to send the letter to Europe instead.

Thanyathorn and Jitra, joined by volunteers, staged protests against Triumph in front of its outlets in various countries, as well as at Triumph headquarters in Switzerland.

Thanyathorn said the campaign might have not yielded immediate results, but it allowed them an opportunity to tell their story to the media.  They had discussions with Triumph labour unions in Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands and Austria to plan further campaigns.

‘They said we might not be able to stop the layoff, but the layoff should be made fair.  They will give us their support,’ Thanyathorn said.

Jitra said that her fellow former Triumph workers had exhausted all channels in Thailand, including the National Human Rights Commission, the Swiss Embassy, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of Labour, but their call had not been answered.  Instead, they were met with experimental use by the police of a Long Range Acoustic Device for crowd dispersal.  So they went on campaign in Europe.

She saw in Europe strong labour unions and parties, and said that it was necessary for workers to fight in formal politics.

Later on the same day and place, in a discussion on labour and democracy, taped for broadcast by the Nation Channel, Jitra said that since they moved their rally site to the ground floor of the Ministry of Labour building on 13 Oct, they had met the Minister twice and ministry officials several times.  They were told that all legal procedures had been exhausted.

Jitra said that the company had paid compensation in accordance with the 1998 Labour Protection Act, but had not followed the 1975 Labour Relations Act, which states that the employer must inform and consult with the labour union about a layoff at least 60 days in advance, and pay compensation according to the number of years of work.

She said their demands remained the same, calling on the company to hold negotiations, to explain the real reason for the layoff, and to follow the Terms of Employment signed between the company and the workers under the 1975 Labour Relations Act.  The Ministry of Labour should act as a mediator, and the government should prove its sincerity by withdrawing BOI support for the company to relocate its production base to Nakhon Sawan.

Kengkij Kittireanglab, lecturer from Kasetsat University’s Faculty of Social Science, said that Abhisit Vejjajiva’s talk of moving Thailand toward a welfare state was ridiculous, because one fundamental of a welfare state was employment for all, but the government had yet to solve the problems for these workers who had been here for nearly three months.

Janya Yimprasert, Director of the Thai Labour Campaign, said that the problem of layoffs remained the same.  Companies abandon workers in one area in favour of workers in another where wages are relatively lower.  Triumph is the last company in Thailand still running its own factories, while other companies like Nike and Adidas closed down their factories in 2002-3, and turned to subcontracted labour. 

The government should give support to the workers’ production of Try Arm products, she said.

"The government should give

"The government should give support to the workers’ production of Try Arm products, she said." Yes, I agree. Set up a co-op. They've got the designers & makers, 300 motivated, committed, energized workers with experience & expertise. Help them to get premises & more equipment, & hire admin & marketing people (to work for the workers). Why bother chasing Triumph, who would only exploit them again in the highly unlikely event of re-hiring them. Let the government force Triumph to pay compensation as allowed for in the 1975 Act, so they can begin to finance their activities, lend them the rest of the start-up finance, & support what could turn into a model project.

Don't forget that "Many

Don't forget that "Many workers believe that the reasons given to dismiss Jitra were just a pretext to destroy their union. The dismissal came after she wore a T-shirt asking the public to reconsider the use of lese majeste laws when she appeared on a TV programme in late April to discuss abortion issues."

The lese majeste law is truly the "Swiss army knife" that allows the persecution of one's enemies for any reason, and here it is actually being wielded by the Swiss! Triumph and the government seem to be working hand in glove.

No Thai government has ever stood up for unions and workers, in fact they all work against them. Remember the attempts to turn the bureaucracy's shameful mismanagement of the railroads into an excuse to break the union?

I used to think of the Swiss as a benevolent people, but the 29 November vote to ban the construction of minarets in the country reminds just how provincial and xenophobic the Europeans in general and the Swiss especially really are. It is unlikely they are concerned about the rights of "little brown people" in Asia.

One other point there though is that in Switzerland, where direct democracy is said to be alive and well, it was "just" a militant 30% of the people who legislated for the Xtian majority against the Muslim minority.

From what I read Switzerland has about 7.5 million people with about 4.8 eligible to vote. The turnout on 29 November was about 2.7 million and the plurality against the Muslims was 57.5%. That works out to about 30%, billed by the MSM as a "solid majority", legislating for the actual majority of the Swiss people.

Democracy is in short supply all over the world. I don't imagine this government in Thailand, doing its very best now to re-fire up the engines of pollution in the East, will lift a finger to help any workers. Although as you point out they have every opportunity to help at this juncture, if the will were there, they will in fact continue to collude with those exploiting ordinary Thais.