The head of a delegation that investigated problems for workers’ on Thailand’s state railways has reacted angrily to news that conditions and morale have deteriorated further
Øystein Aslaksen, ITF Railway Workers’ Section Chair and President of the Norwegian Locomotive Drivers’ Union today wrote to the head of the State Railway of Thailand to register his and the ITF’s dissatisfaction with the deteriorating situation on the country’s railways. Aslaksen headed an international delegation of railway trade unionists who went to the country last month to investigate reports of poor rail safety standards and anti-union practices by employers and the government.
Writing to Yutthana Thapcharoen of the State Railway of Thailand, Øystein Aslaksen stated:
“I am writing to you on behalf of the ITF Safety Mission that we organized in Thailand in January 2010 and as the Chair of the ITF Railway Workers’ Section, representing 1.2 million workers in 92 countries globally, to express our serious concern over the attitude of the SRT towards the State Railway Workers’ Union of Thailand (SRUT).
The Mission made it very clear in our meeting with your Deputy Governor, Prachak Manodham and later at our press conference on 15 January in Bangkok that the SRT management must cease its current anti-union stance towards SRUT and establish a co-operative industrial relationship with the SRUT and its members. The goal should be for SRT and SRUT to both strive to improve the safety standards within the Thai railways. In this regard, the ITF General Secretary, David Cockroft, wrote to the Thai Prime Minister on 18 January requesting your organization to stop its anti-union activities and respect and fully implement the decision of the Tripartite Panel on 15 January, which voted against the dismissal of the six Branch officials of the SRUT in Hat Yai.
Despite the requests of the ITF Safety Mission and the ITF General Secretary, the SRT, with the suspected involvement of your Transport Minister, has continued with further actions against the union. On 21 January, your organization suddenly submitted a charter of 65 demands to the SRUT designed to revoke the important aspects of the collective bargaining agreements pertaining to rail safety. It was then withdrawn on 25 January as the employees of your organization correctly expressed their deep concern with regards the possible and potential consequences that such demands, if implemented, could bring to the workplaces.
We also have reason to believe that some union members were influenced by your senior management to sign a petition against the current SRUT leadership in November 2009. This resulted in an extra-ordinary meeting of the union being held on 3 February 2010.
History demonstrates that all attempts by management to interfere with the democratic procedures of a genuine trade union are bound to fail. SRT’s attempts were in fact defeated firmly by the members at the union’s extra-ordinary meeting.
The ITF, once again, calls upon the SRT to stop its anti-union policies towards the SRUT and to start building a sound industrial relationship. We will condemn your move to take the dismissal case to court, and as we have repeatedly expressed explicitly and publicly, such action will be met by stronger protest from trade unions around the world and the ITF will submit a complaint to the ILO’s Freedom of Association Committee where your government and your organization will be subject to further scrutiny from the ILO.
Should you cease your hostility and aggression towards the SRUT, the ITF is prepared to assist your organization in rebuilding a better industrial relationship and social dialogue with the union and to restore and improve the reputation of your organization globally.”
ITF DELEGATION STATEMENT
Friday, January 15, 2010
A high-level trade union delegation comprised of officials from the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and its rail affiliates visited Bangkok and Hat-Yai on 11 – 15 January 2010 at the request of its Thai affiliate, State Railway Workers` Union of Thailand (SRUT). The two key objectives of the mission were to investigate the recent dismissals of 6 Hat-Yai Branch officials of SRUT and to inspect safety standard in the State Railways of Thailand (SRT). During the visit, the delegation met with the SRUT, ITF-Thai affiliates, the national labour centre SERC, the SRT and the Labour Minister. They have also visited the SRT worksites in Bangsue, Makkasan and Hat Yai.
A final report of the mission will be made available soon.
In conclusion, the ITF delegation demands the immediate and unconditional reinstatement of the 6 SRUT unionists, namely Wirut Sagaekhum, Prachaniwat Buasri, Sorawut Porthongkham, Thawatchai Bunwisut, Saroj Rakchant and Nitinat Chaibum. They were dismissed based on a SRT report that cited that a senior staff manager has witnessed their wrong-doings to interrupt the operation of the railways. However, it fails to stipulate the name of this witness or the specificities of such action. It is clear that the action is motivated to stop the union from taking further industrial action where the justification of the dismissals were made-up after the SRT took such action.
The delegation further demands the SRT to withdraw the damage suit of 70.4 million Bahts set against the union for their train stoppages which started on 16 October 2009. Their claim is groundless as the SRT operates with a large sum of government subsidy and there is no documented loss. The company is merely complaining the "loss" of income during the union’s action. The delegation further stresses that a Cabinet Resolution already allows the third class passenger to travel free-of-charge on local travels and therefore such argument on financial losses can not be justified.
The ITF delegation also notes with grave concern the attitude of the management and the government where they continue to pursue an anti-union policy by threatening to dismiss further the union officials in this matter. Such victimisation will destabilise the sound industrial relationship in the Thai railways and must be abandoned immediately.
On its safety inspection, the delegation is appalled with the low level of safety standard that they observed at the workplaces that they visited. It is clear that the government and the management have failed to invest in the railways for many years. Even the central office of SRT admits shortage in staffing and the average age of locomotives is 30 years old. It is totally unacceptable that the SRT forces train drivers to operate the locomotives in unsafe conditions. It is also a great concern for the passengers. They must withdraw their statement that the trains can be operated without a vigilance device. Such attitude contradicts completely with international practices where a safety device on train is compulsory.
In the meantime, the delegation congratulates the Thai railway workers who have been working under these conditions where many are forced to work for weeks without weekly rest days. It also reinforces its support and solidarity with the SRUT who organised their industrial action to campaign for rail safety and believes that it is legitimate. It calls upon the SRT to implement the terms as signed in the collective bargaining agreements on safety issues immediately.
Oystein Aslaksen from the Norwegian Locomotive Drivers Union and Chair of ITF Railway Workers’ Section comments: "On behalf of the 4.5 million transport workers around the world, the delegation demands the Thai government and the SRT to develop a new safety culture with the union without delay. It must maintain transparency where the workers are rewarded for highlighting safety concerns and not to punish them. They must cooperate to promote safety at workplaces. Workers have the right to stop work under unsafe conditions. Management must acknowledge that humans make errors and it must be complemented by proper safety device.
Regarding the actions taken against the union by the SRT, the ITF proposes to file a complaint to the International Labour Organization (ILO) with the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) in consultation with the SRUT, should the management fail to reinstate the 6 dismissed workers, withdraw the damage suit and cease its union-busting policy.
ITF delegation was comprised of the following members.
ITF Railway Workers’ Section Chair
President, Norwegian Locomotive Drivers’ Union
ITF RW Section Asia Pacific Chair
General Secretary, Rail Martime and Transport Workers Union, New Zealand
ITF Inland Transport Section Secretary
ITF Asia/Pacific Regional Secretary
Assistant General Secretary, National Railway Mazdoor Union (Central Railway), AIRF
International Secretary, JREU