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Persecution of union leaders ‘shames Thailand’

18 Jan 2019
Press Release
The ITF delegation meeting labour minister Adul Saengsingkaew
A high-level delegation from the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) to Bangkok has condemned the treatment of a group of workers from the State Rail Union of Thailand (SRUT) who have been persecuted just for raising safety concerns.

However, the mission has welcomed positive meetings it has had with government officials in the last two days about the long-running case.

The seven SRUT leaders had been sacked, but reinstated. However, despite being found innocent, they are facing a crippling fine of THB24 million (USD726,116) set by the Thai Supreme Court. The ITF mission is in Thailand and has met with representatives from the transport ministry, the labour ministry and the International Labour Organization (ILO) to call for justice for the workers after ten years of struggle.

Members of the ITF mission spoke at a media conference held jointly with the SRUT.

Noel Coard, Head of Inland Transport, ITF said: “We have had good meetings at the labour and transport ministries – we welcome their positive intervention and now wait to see them put their words into action. This long-running saga shames Thailand, it’s time for the government to prove that workers here have true union rights.”

CA Raja Sridhar, Vice-Chair of Railway workers, ITF said: “On behalf of the railway workers in Asia and the world I would like to express my solidarity and support for the union leaders in Thailand. Railway safety is important for workers, passengers and the public. Railway workers have unrivalled knowledge and can help make the system safer – these union leaders should be praised for their initiative, not punished.”

Sawit Kaewvarn, President, SRUT said: “We welcome the support and efforts of the ITF and its unions. It keeps us strong and has helped us to win some battles in this ten-year struggle. We will not back down because we know we have not done anything wrong, and I am sure that this mission from the ITF will help us to finally win justice.”

Ruwan Subasinghe, Legal Director, ITF said: “The Thai authorities must take this opportunity to show that Thailand is a country that respects international labour standards. In 2013, the ILO found that the initiative by the activists was industrial action, and therefore protected by the principles of freedom of association. We call on the State Railway of Thailand to withdraw the fines and reimburse the seven union leaders for monies deducted, and ensure that the union leaders receive full compensation for lost wages and benefits that they have not received since their reinstatement.”

END

Background

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) helps create borderless solidarity among transport workers around the world. We support 670 affiliate trade unions in 147 countries, representing 19.7 million workers. 

Photos included with this release of the ITF mission.

A global campaign exposing the case has been launched by Labourstart here: https://goo.gl/zQCksH

The ITF, along with the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), has written to the ILO director general asking him to urgently intervene in the case of the seven Thai rail union leaders.

Sawit Kaewvarn, Pinyo Rueanpetch, Banjong Boonnet, Thara Sawangtham, Liem Morkngan, Supichet Suwanchatree and Arun Deerakchat have been ordered by a Thai court to pay a fine of THB24 million (USD726,116) for running a health and safety initiative at the state railway of Thailand (SRT). 

The seven activists are all members of the SRUT. They started the initiative after the Hua Hin rail crash of 5 October 2009, with the aim of exposing insufficient safety standards. For their initiative they were sacked, but were reinstated in 2013 after a global campaign of support [http://www.itfglobal.org/en/news-events/news/2014/june/victory-for-thai-railway-workers].  

In 2013, the ILO committee on freedom of association found that the initiative by the activists was industrial action, and therefore protected by the principles of freedom of association. The joint letter, from ITF general secretary Stephen Cotton and ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow, to ILO director general Guy Ryder says "it appears from the judgment that the Thai Government failed to transmit the CFA’s conclusions to the Supreme Court ... There is a now a very real possibility that these fines could bankrupt the individuals concerned."

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