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Stop Rights Violations against Myanmar Migrant Workers at Vita Food Factory (1989) Ltd. in Thailand

The State Enterprise Workers’ Relations Confederation (SERC) of Thailand, together with the Thai Labour Solidarity Committee (TLSC), are two labour organisations that attach great importance to protecting migrant workers. Both organisations assist workers without discrimination with regard to nationality and accord migrant rights as a significant issue in our constitutions, policies and working plans. The case of Vita Foods is well known to both organisations for some time as a case involving serious violations against worker labour and human rights, closely related to the case of Phattana Seafood in Songkhla Province. Even though there are some government agencies that have perhaps tried to solve the challenges relating to these cases, in particular regarding the Vita case it seems the rights violations remain unsolved. SERC and TLSC had the opportunity recently to communicate in detail with workers from Vita Foods who ran away from this dreadful factory and who recounted their appalling situation.

Four months have now passed since the protest of migrant workers at Vita Food Factory (1989) Ltd. demanding their wage increase according to Thai law. However, to this day, the situation has not improved and workers’ rights are still being seriously violated. Management continues to take advantage of workers and labour laws have not been implemented. On 11th April 2012, the pressure of low wages and unsafe working conditions at Vita created an impatient protest amongst workers who gathered to protest against the management to increase their unsustainable wages. This protest was an acknowledgement and cry to the public to be aware of the workers suffering situation and that there were injustices and violations of rights against Myanmar migrant workers in Vita Food Factory (1989) Ltd.

Vita Food Factory (1989) Ltd. produces canned products including vegetables, fruit, juice and pineapple for their international export business. There are three factories belonging to Vita in Santo Sub-district, Thamaka District, Kanchanaburi province in Thailand. Approximately 500 Thai workers and 7, 000 migrant workers from Myanmar work at these establishments. Almost all Myanmar migrant workers at Vita are hired through use of Myanmar brokers and approximately 12 Thai sub-contracting agencies.

The majority of Myanmar migrant workers at Vita were unlawfully and unsafely smuggled into Thailand and travelled to the company by means of cross border brokerage systems. Each worker had to pay 15, 000 - 20, 000 baht (about $500-660) as a transportation fee. Moreover, these workers are then required to pay for food and accommodation fees at Vita at 2, 400 baht per month ($80). Workers are paid their salaries only via brokers and these brokers always distribute to the workers only around 200 to 400 baht per month ($ 6-13) through means of Thai sub-contracting agencies and related exploitative systems. If workers would like to change their employer or move within Vita, they have to seek permission from brokers, costing 2,000-5,000 baht ($65-165). Workers are allowed to make an internal switch from one factory to another in the Vita Food factory compound. However, such workers do not receive the money they lawfully earn from the previous factories that they worked for. In addition, each worker has to pay 5, 500 baht ($180) for a working pass.

Workers have to work 8 hours a day at Vita and there are 2 shifts (day and mid shift). According to an agreement, workers will be paid 252 baht per day ($8.4) and 32 baht for overtime ($1) without any incentive and shift pay. When workers have to work on a public or religious holiday, they only receive weekday payment rates. In addition, workers do not receive their salary according to agreements and Thai and international law. Workers are provided no compensation for traditional holidays and in case they are allowed to take sick leave, they receive nothing. There is no vocational leave provided for workers because the quantity of tasks for each factory depends on the raw material seasons. In case workers do not work for whatever reason for a total of 8 hours, even as a result of limited raw materials to produce products, immediately management stop manufacturing and workers are paid only according to the number of hours they work and not for a whole day as legally required.

There is inadequate drinking water in Vita factory and workers have to bring their own water containers to work. Workers have to buy working equipment and uniforms which cost 500 - 1,000 baht ($16-33) per month, depending on the departments they are working for. Workers’ salaries are issued on the 9th and 24th of each month (the payment receipt indicates that they are hired under a sub-contracting system). Brokers will deduct some amount of worker’s salary because they cite a need to pay bribes to government officials. For those who are documented, the bribe is deducted at the rate of 300 baht per month ($10) but for undocumented workers the bribe is 600 baht per month ($20). Furthermore, workers have to pay 1,000 baht per month ($33) for a working card but if they resign, they never receive their deposit for the working card.

According to a thorough investigation of the manufacturing and exporting process, SERC and TLSC have been informed that apparently Vita Food Factory (1989) Ltd. is a supplier that is producing products to Walmart as well as across the world.  It seems capitalism aims to reduce production costs in this case without any consideration for the dignity as human beings of workers (migrant or otherwise) in Thailand. This oppressive situation impacts on all workers in our country and the violations of rights become ever more complicated. Migrant workers are those individuals at most risk of becoming victims of human and labour rights violations being taken most advantage of because of Thai laws that do not protected them.

To provide labour protection without any discrimination, and to ensure respect for workers humanity, SERC and TLSC make the following urgent recommendations regarding the Vita abuse case.

1. Vita Food Factory (1989) Ltd. should ensure respect for its migrant workers according to the law and by providing consideration for their human dignity. Vita factory should provide opportunities for all concerned stakeholders to enter the factory premises to conduct detailed investigations regarding working conditions of the workers inside the factory as proof of the sincerity of the Vita management and as a means to challenge the brokers to eliminate labour violations in this area of Thailand.

2. Both the Thai and Myanmar Governments should coordinate to provide assistance to the workers in Vita factory and enact measures to support persons, groups and organisations working on the rights violations in this factory.

3. The United States government and embassies should investigate operating processes of Walmart, the American company who has been identified as ordering products from this abusive factory that violates fundamental labour rights, and should request Walmart to genuinely implement its company code of conduct.

4. Walmart should investigate in detail the labour and human rights violations in Vita Food Factory and provide opportunities for others persons, organisations and trade unions in Thailand and across the world to assist in investigating the factory in order to enhance and protect both Walmart and Vita Foods’ reputation.

This press release and the public release of the above detailed information is not an attempt by SERC or TLSC to destroy the reputation of any persons or companies. However, our strong ideology is to provide labour protection to all workers being violated in Thailand without discrimination at both national and international levels so as to create a sustainable peaceful environment for all human beings in Thailand and across the world.

SERC and TLSC sincerely request all the above mentioned persons, organisations and governments to provide immediate cooperation to bring about solutions in this concerning case. If our attempts to solve this concerning situation still fall unheeded, SERC and TLSC will swiftly coordinate with national and global labour and social movements to ensure the improvement of the quality of the lives of workers at Vita factory and across the country.