SRUT’s Struggle-Back ground
As you are aware that SRUT has started its action on 12 October by gathering and staying overnight on the street in front of the Transport ministry and submitting the demand letter to the government during its cabinet weekly meeting in order to get the real attentions from The Transport Minister and The Prime Minster on the recent train fatal accident that caused by the Fatigue of Locomotive Driver and the malfunctioned Safety System (Vigilance Device or so called Deadman system). But this action did not get attention from the Transport Ministry and the government or even from the Media as expected.
So the union had to upgrade its movement. Since 16 October, SRUT has requested the railway workers and its members throughout the country to join in the nationwide industrial actions to response to the irresponsibility and ignorance of its Railway management, Transport Ministry and the Government on the shortage of Railwaymen especially the locomotive driver and the safety standard of the railway operation. The nationwide industrial action started by slowing down work of Locomotive Drivers, Driver Assistants and Technicians and the action has been developed to work stoppage by taking voluntary sick leaves a few days later.
In response to the union action, the Government, Transport Ministry and Railway Governor has attacked the union hard by releasing the real nasty propaganda against the union, emphasizing that the accident was caused by human error only and insisting that the Vigilance device (safety system) is only a supplementary device for the railway safety and it is not important for the safety measure because the Locomotive driver, driver assistant are already there which is enough for the safety in driving the train. We all know that this is extremely wrong and purposely wrong information to the public and media. All modes of Transport must have the safety device and system and can not just rely on the human only. And now they, the government, transport ministry and railway governor, have joined hands together and announced to speed up the Restructuring Plan of the railway within 3 week-time.
There are all sorts of fault rumours that are causing misunderstanding among the public, these are a set up by management against the union. Some branch committee members were transferred immediately within 24 hours without any reasonable grounds. All the guilt and bad images were dumped on the union. The union was pushed to become a public defendant.
The Transport Minister, management and the government response to the union action by amending the related rules and regulations in order to recruit those 120 students newly graduated with no real experiences from Railway Engineering School and some 20 retired locomotive drivers to drive the train to replace those drivers and assistants who join the action with the union. This is extremely dangerous to every life concerned; they just don’t care the safety of passenger and workers but only want to defeat the union unreasonably.
Yesterday, The State Enterprise Workers’ Relation Confederation (SERC), comprising of unions in public services, transport, electricity, water supplies, energy, banks etc., and ITF Coordinating Committee of Thailand have read out their statements in the press conference and declared to the public that they will fully support the fight and struggle of SRUT. On coming 26 October, 43 SERC affiliated unions will meet together to discuss and set their strategic movement to help and support the SRUT struggles by all possible means.
This morning (22 October) SRUT’s committee went to the Crime Suppression Division, Office of Command, Thai Royal Police to file charges against the management on violation and not complying with the Collective Bargaining Agreement that was made with the union in year 2001, 2002 and January 2009. In the agreements which stated that they would fix, repair, and look into all kinds of maintenance in order to ensure the diesel locomotive, passenger cars, and other components of the train to be in ready condition before running the train. The management has never complied with these agreements until the latest fatal accidents occurred and blame only workers and when the workers refuse to drive the trains that are not in proper condition to run especially when concerning the safety devices, then the all fault will be again thrown on the workers and penalty would be instantly given to them.
Below are the issues that SRUT has been fighting against:
Safety Measures on Train:
No proper safety measure and device on 90 % of existing trains, not comply with the rule and regulations of The State Railway Act and the CBA made with the union on 14 August 2001, 4 December 2002 and 23 January 2009. In the agreements which stated that they would fix, repair, and look into all kinds of maintenance in order to ensure the diesel locomotive, passenger cars, and other components of the train to be in ready condition before running the train. The management has never complied with these agreements until the latest fatal accidents occurred and blame only workers and when the workers refuse to drive the trains that are not in proper condition to run especially when concerning the safety devices, then the all fault will be again thrown on the workers and penalty would be instantly given to them.
Mismanagement by the Governor:
The ignorance on safety measures for passengers and workers, corruption, violation on CBA made with union and only blames the workers when problems arise without acceptance the fact that the management themselves are at fault and have never so far accepted the fact that the trains are not in the condition to run.
Fatigue (Kills) of workers:
The shortage and limitation of the railway workforce which was the cabinet’s resolution, many drivers have to continuously work without proper rest.
The announcement by the government to speed up Restructuring Plan within 3- week time. But at the same time, the earlier agreement between the union and cabinet’s
representatives made after the latest nationwide strike in June, is still there. The agreement states that any changes or amendments in The State Railway that may affect the working conditions of railway workers must have the union’s involvement and consent before proceeding.
Organising for our Rights
The State Railway Workers’ Union of Thailand (SRUT)
The State Railway Workers’ Union of Thailand (SRUT) has been fighting against the government’s plans to privatise the State Railway of Thailand since 1987. The union organised several strikes in the last 20 years, even though strikes are strongly prohibited by both the Labour and Criminal laws. More recently, the temporary military government which came in after the 19 September 2006 coup d’état tried to privatise by splitting it into four companies and allowing private operators to run rail freight services and express trains, and to manage railway land and properties.
On 31 October 2007, all trains came to a halt for eight hours during a nationwide ‘sick leave’ strike organised by SRUT. The government and railway management had to revoke their privatisation plan and signed a collective agreement with SRUT. The most significant point in the agreement states that the union should be consulted before any future privatisation plan, and has to give its consent before the implementation.
SRUT was strongly organised and prepared for the strike. The locomotive drivers have been the main force in every action as they could not be replaced by other railway workers to perform their jobs.
Before resuming the normal service, the railway management and the government had to agree with SRUT to consider the strike action as normal work, and therefore no worker taking part in the strike would be punished. The management also accepted the SRUT’s request to investigate allegations of corruption within the rail administration, while the government promised to build a cross-country double-track railway.
At present, the rail network in Thailand has expanded into many routes, such as the double track between Bangkok and its suburbs, and the rail link between the capital and the new Bangkok International Airport (Suvarnabhumi Airport). The new rail extensions totalling 263 km towards the north and south of Bangkok, together with the terrible road traffic in the capital and ever increasing oil prices have created better conditions for implementing the project for the much needed cross-country double-track railway.
As for urban transport, the Bangkok Mass Transit System (BTS) or Skytrain and the underground metro called the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) have a combined route length of 53 km only. Unfortunately, the number of employees in BTS is less than 200, and SRUT is not able to organise them because labour legislation does not allow workers from the private sector to join the same unions as workers from state enterprises. Another union organising some 200 workers in MRT proved to be weak and not involved in the trade union movement and ITF international activities, as they had been influenced by the management.
Three major political parties taking part in the general elections organised on 23 December 2007 pledged to keep railways in the public sector and to build the railway across the country. On 26 March 2008, the elected transport minister signed an agreement with a construction company to build the dual-track railway throughout the country and finish the 263 km line.
The State Railway Workers’ Union of Thailand has achieved significant progress since the nationwide ‘sick leave’ strike against privatization, and all its demands are already in place. The management board of has revoked its resolution to employ workers from a private company as locomotive drivers and train staff, and must seek union consent before attempting to implement any measures that might affect workers’ rights and their working conditions.
The union also has to face the unstable political situation, generated by the present government and parliament. The speaker of the parliament has been suspended and taken to court to answer charges of electoral fraud. Moreover, the new Prime Minister Samak is from the same political party as the ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who allegedly abused power and is accused of favouring corruption during his administration. Therefore, Mr Samak’s government has been trying all possible ways to protect the former Prime Minister from being found guilty of any accusation. The People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), the most powerful group outside the parliament, has intensified its efforts to object to the recent government’s initiative to amend the state constitution in order to help their own people/party to be cleared of all charges.
SRUT has been campaigning for a long time to amend the labour legislation in order to allow workers in both state and private sectors to join the same unions. According to the new constitution of Thailand, 10,000 signatures from union members or citizens eligible to vote are needed in order to propose a new law or amendmends to an existing law. Now the workers are collecting the necessary 10,000 signatures, although the process is complicated, as the state constitution requires copies of house registration and identity card of all those signing the petition. However, the union is confident it will succeed to submit the charter of 10,000 signatures to the government and parliament on the 1st of May 2008, International Workers’ Day.
This is the edited and updated version of the Thailand Country Report “Organising for our rights” by Somsak Kosaisook, adviser to SRUT and former president of SRUT, presented at the ITF Asia/Pacific Railway Workers’ Section meeting, Jakarta, 10 – 11 December 2007.