Workers at the Canadian-linked garment factory, Georgie & Lou Co., Ltd. based in San Kamphaeng District of Chiang Mai, were frustrated when their employers dispatched only an attorney to negotiate with them in the third round of negotiations, creating an unnecessary delay in settling the ongoing labour dispute – a delay that put workers under increased pressure as the company is using warning letters and dismissals to pressure workers to sign new contracts.
In September, the company introduced various rules deemed exploitative of the workers including the issuing of frivolous warning letters for minor offences, the layoff of workers and pressure on workers to sign new contracts. Workers view the tactics as an attempt to force them to resign to avoid paying severance pay as the company plans to open a new plant on the Thai-Burmese border with cheaper labour.
According to Prachatham news agency, at around 15.30 on October 23, 2013, workers of Georgie & Lou were waiting in front of the factory while their representatives were meeting with the company. It turned out that the company only assigned an attorney to talk with the workers.
One worker representative said that the workers had been asking for improvements in company working conditions for almost a month now, including submitting the demands in writing to Mr Steve, the company manager, but the manager claimed he had no authority and this time they sent a lawyer. They do not want to start real negotiations.
"The attorney came to meet us and simply asked us to meet halfway. For example, he said that the company may remove the 20 baht fine, but the company was likely not to be able to provide bonuses at the end of the year. The company may provide the legal minimum salary of 9,000 baht (around 300 USD) per month. We were told that he would bring all the issues we raised back to the company, so everything is still under negotiation. The next meeting is scheduled on November 2,” said one of the workers who asked not to be named for fear of repercussions.
The worker representative said “The workers are gathered here today to strengthen our collective spirit, because the representatives were suspended even just for asking for an improvement of working conditions,. The legal system is not able to protect us, so we are gathered to show the company and ourselves that together we can achieve our goals. We will continue to demand our rights, and we may have to file complaints, go on strike or complain to the labour court”
One of the ten workers who had been unlawfully dismissed by the company when they refused to sign new contracts said that right after the company announced the plans to open a factory in Mae Sot, they started to change working conditions.
"The recent changes in working conditions at Georgie & Lou include an increase in daily working hours from 7.5 hours excluding lunch to 8 hours without any corresponding compensation. Under the new rules, the workers also have to start at 8.00 am. And they are required to be ready at their work station at 7.58 am sharp. If they are there two minutes early, they receive a warning letter. And if they are late, of course, they will get a warning letter as well. There are just two fingerprint scanners installed in the factory and this has made it impossible for some workers to get to their work station right on time.”
The company had also removed quality control personnel, asking the workers in each section to take responsibility for any flaw in the work at each stage. If any flaw was found, the workers in the section would have to pay a 20 baht fine.
"We are not even allowed to use the toilet for too long or too often, otherwise we will receive warning letters as well. The employers have CCTV installed everywhere inside the factory and any small issue will result in a warning letter. Any workers accumulating 4 or 5 warning letters will be called into the office and told “you have many warning letters, what will you do about that; if you want to stay on, you will have to sign a new temporary contract, which is valid only for a year“. If the worker refuses to sign the new contract they will be fired.
"We refuse to sign new contracts. If we sign them, than when they move the factory to Mae Sot, we shall receive no severance pay. According to the new labour contract, it is not necessary for the employers to provide severance pay, or pay only a minimal amount. All these methods have been introduced by the company to force the workers to resign. If we refuse to sign we get dismissed,” said one of the workers.