Sawit Kaewvarn, Pinyo Rueanpetch, Banjong Boonnet, Thara Sawangtham, Liem Morkngan, Supichet Suwanchatree and Arun Deerakchat have been ordered by the supreme 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 activists are all members of the State Railway Union of Thailand. They started the initiative after the Hua Hin rail crash of 5 October 2009, with the aim of exposing insufficient safety standards. For their plan they were sacked, and reinstated in 2014 after a global campaign of support but without compensation for lost wages and benefits.
In 2013, the ILO committee on freedom of association (CFA) 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."
The letter demands that Mr Ryder "call on the SRT to withdraw the fines and reimburse the seven union leaders for monies deducted; ensures that the union leaders receive full compensation for lost wages and benefits which they have not received since their reinstatement."
Stephen Cotton added: “This situation exposes a number of failures in Thai law to protect the rights of workers and trade unions, including the right to strike, for which the Thai government is responsible, as a member of the ILO.”