Thai unions ready for IndustriALL
Building up unity among unions was the main agenda for a Thai Leadership Forum held in Bangkok on April 20. The Forum, supported by the Solidarity Centre and FES, resulted in a new action plan for building union co-operation in the sectors covered by IndustriALL Global Union in Thailand.
THAILAND: The challenge facing union leaders in Thailand was whether or not they could use the creation of IndustriALL Global Union as a platform to work together on national issues. Leaders from unions affiliated to IMF, ICEM, and ITGLWF and other non-affiliated unions came together to discuss how to do this.
Like most countries, the unions have a long history of sometimes working well together but there have also been some conflicts in recent times. Despite this, all the participants in the meeting worked well together and were able to develop an ambitious national strategy in preparation for the creation of IndustriALL, helping to shape a new approach that will bring new levels of cooperation among the unions.
The strategy was developed by creating four working groups and mixing the union leaders and brainstorming key issues facing the Thai unions. The issues identified by the working groups included outsourcing, the legal framework in which the unions operate, communications/ education and building union capacity.
Outsourcing in Thailand has led to many workers being paid only the minimum wage and adds to a sense of insecurity of employment amongst permanent and contract workers. The challenge is made more difficult with the high level of migrant workers that make up the workforce. Organizing contract workers and improving conditions through collective bargaining are some of the tactics identified by the leaders.
Thailand has a labour force of over 39 million and manufacturing accounts for 13 per cent of the economy in sectors such as automotive, electronics, textiles and steel. The union density is under five per cent. Although Thailand has been successful in attracting Foreign Investment its government continues to argue that strengthening labour legislation would undermine its attempts to attract more. Organizing workers in Thailand is a very difficult process and often new union leaders are fired as they attempt to gain recognition for their union. Influencing the national legal framework and getting the government to ratify ILO Conventions 87 and 98 is a priority for local unions.
In order to do this the union leaders are seeking to build up their communication and education programs to get public support. The unions committed to developing a news letter and also building a new web site for IndustriALL Thailand.
Rob Johnston Executive Director IMF summarized the meeting saying, "The Thai unions have a huge potential for growth. There will be big challenges to overcome and no one is being naive. But this group of leaders have proved that given the opportunity to work together, they can develop an ambitious plan that will make a difference and have an impact."Apr 26, 2012 – Rob Johnston