Labor Disputes in Thailand

A senior program officer from an NGO in Phang Nga who receives complaints from workers stated that migrant workers lack knowledge of how to file their grievances through provincial government agencies. They also are reluctant to report their grievances through company-operated mechanisms for fear of reprisal.

Nevertheless, a number of non-judicial grievance mechanisms exist at the company-level that can be used by aggrieved workers to resolve their disputes.

Unions

Workers in Thailand often face abuses when they organize. Companies can fire workers for seeking to organize and even send them to military re-education camps. They can also force them to issue personal public apologies and threaten criminal defamation lawsuits. In addition, retaliation against union leaders is common, with companies suing them for alleged financial losses from their activities, bankrupting them and discouraging other workers from speaking up.

MWRN has worked since 2016 with seafood processors to establish welfare committees at their workplaces, where workers elect representatives. These committees have helped to improve working conditions, but they are not independent from employers and do not allow for collective bargaining.

The exploitation of migrant workers in Thailand’s factories cannot be addressed without providing them with their internationally recognized rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. To advance these efforts, the government must ratify the International Labor Organization Conventions covering these rights. Until it does, the country will continue to suffer from its inability to protect workers and to promote good work.

Mediation

Dispute resolution mechanisms play an important role in protecting workers’ rights. These include conciliation, arbitration, and mediation. These processes are often cheaper than a court case and can be conducted in a less formal environment.

However, many workers are reluctant to use these mechanisms. Those with concerns about their immigration status may fear that authorities will side with their employers. In addition, they may feel that police will extort them or otherwise interfere with their complaints.

In this context, it is essential to promote migrant-friendly grievance mechanisms and improve access to them. This will help reduce abuses and prevent future violations of migrant workers’ rights. Furthermore, it will contribute to building trust in government agencies and improving the effectiveness of state-based complaint mechanisms.

Arbitration

Labor disputes can arise over a number of issues including terms and conditions of employment, working time and overtime payment, relocation of the workplace and other similar matters. The resolution of these disputes may be facilitated by mediation or arbitration.

Both types of dispute resolution processes are regulated by the Arbitration Act of Thailand. The Act is based on UNCITRAL model laws with Thai-specific additions. Arbitration is a private, less expensive and faster method of dispute resolution than traditional litigation in court. However, it is not without its limitations.

Workers’ organizations, particularly those with nationalities other than Thai, can face difficulties in asserting their rights and interests. For example, one repre- sentative of a workers’ organization complained that the Thai MoL was instructing large companies to promote worker welfare committees as a way to weaken unions and co-opt genuine worker representation models. Also, many workers lack sufficient legal knowledge and financial resources to contest their cases.

Courts

In Thailand, disputes between employers and workers can arise over a variety of issues including working time per day or week, overtime payment, relocation of the workplace and termination clauses. Such cases often result in litigation. However, dispute resolution options are not limited to the courts and can include mediation, arbitration or conciliation.

Non-judicial complaint mechanisms are also available and are set out in law. A worker can file a complaint with the company’s operational level grievance mechanism or with a district and provincial labor inspectors. In cases of fraud or other serious misconduct, a labor case can be elevated into a criminal suit.

A key element of remedial systems is the presence of robust complaint mechanisms at the company’s operational level. However, the robustness of these mechanisms is a function of both capacity and culture. This gap can be addressed through strengthening policies, improving informational and supportive services for migrant workers, building relations with governmental agencies and CSOs and promoting inclusion.

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