At 4pm on September 14th 2010 the workers who have been striking for one full week in the Dechapanich factory, Khon Kaen re-entered negotiations with the factory employer and after several hours, the employer agreed to all three demands of the workers but with such conditions that the employer continues to hold the upper hand.
On the first demand that the workers be allowed to hold their own documents, the employer agreed that any worker who so requested could hold their own documents. However, migrants holding their own passport would be responsible themselves for presenting at the immigration every ninety days and would be held responsible if they lost the passport.
On the second demand that the employer comply with the national Labour Protection Law 1998 of Thailand, the employer agreed that for a days work from 8am to 5pm the workers would be paid the same as their Thai counterparts but on the condition that they produce work of an equal quality to their Thai counterparts. If the work was not of the same standard, they will be sacked. The employer would of course be breaking the law if he paid the migrant less than the minimum wage but this was not clear if this was understood or not. The employer also agreed that overtime would be paid at the same rate as the Thai counterparts but that it would be up to the employer to whom they offered overtime.
On the third demand, the employer agreed that there would be no repercussions for the 948 Burmese workers who have been on strike for one week.
All these agreements were signed by those present who included the workers, the employer and witnessed by the Labour Protection Officer, the Department of Employment, Thai Lawyers Society and NGOs. However, the agreement would only be valid until the end of the employment contract which for most workers finishes in three months time.
The workers have agreed to return to work tomorrow but have also been told that they will be visited by an official from the Embassy of the Union of Myanmar. They are cautious about all the conditions placed on the agreements and the temporary nature of the agreement and about the reason for the visit tomorrow.
In 2005, in the Concluding Observations of the Human Rights Committee, on the International Convenant on Civil an d Political Rights:, para 23, advised the Thai Government that it
must take measures to effectively implement the existing legislation providing for the rights of migrant workers. Migrant workers should be afforded full and effective access to social services, educational facilities and personal documents, in accordance with the principle of non-discrimination. The State party should consider establishing a governmental mechanism to which migrant workers can report violations of their rights by their employers, including illegal withholding of their personal documents.
It seems that five years later, and with Thailand now Chair of the Human Rights Council, the situation for migrant workers has changed little and workers can only exercise their rights with a long list of conditions attached to them.
The 948 Burmese workers, who entered Thailand legally with passports under the MOU agreement between Thailand and Burma, had endured poor working conditions and the confiscation of their personal documents for nine months. However, learning that the personal documents of six workers who had been sacked had been tampered with, the workers decided they must take action to retain their legal status and to improve their working conditions and went out on strike.
In the first few days, negotiations broke down because the employer only wanted to speak to the six workers who had been sacked, but the workers afraid that these six workers would be deported, insisted that the employer speak in front of all the workers. The employer refused. On September 13th, the workers agreed for eight representatives to meet with the employer in the presence of officials from the Department of Employment, Immigration, Labour Protection office, the Law Society of Thailand, and NGOs The workers succeeded in getting the two year visas which had been cancelled reactivated and an agreement that all the workers could check their personal documents to ensure that they also had not been changed.
Sept 14th 2010