‘Nationalism’ trumps unions

'Nationalism' trumps unions - The Nation, May 12, 2005
A labour journal article has outlined the main issues preventing Thai workers from forming labour unions, chief among them that nation's image supersedes their needs for better working conditions.
Labour Focus, a quarterly labour journal published by the non-governmental organisation Campaign for Thai Labour Programme, also cited other factors such as rhetoric that factories are extended families and that "Thai-ness" is being held up as an antithesis to collective bargaining. The article is the result of a survey of union leaders and workers over recent years.
Other perceived obstacles are threats of factory relocation abroad, especially to countries with cheaper labour like Vietnam, China and Indonesia, the slow and costly process of labour court hearings, and claims by employees that they already have adequate ethical standards...


[2015 note: Like many Thai newspaper articles from the early days of the Thai internet, this article is no longer online. Below is the complete text of the original article.]

'Nationalism' trumps unions

Published on May 12 , 2005

A labour journal article has outlined the main issues preventing Thai workers from forming labour unions, chief among them that nation's image supersedes their needs for better working conditions.

Labour Focus, a quarterly labour journal published by the non-governmental organisation Campaign for Thai Labour Programme, also cited other factors such as rhetoric that factories are extended families and that "Thai-ness" is being held up as an antithesis to collective bargaining. The article is the result of a survey of union leaders and workers over recent years.

Other perceived obstacles are threats of factory relocation abroad, especially to countries with cheaper labour like Vietnam, China and Indonesia, the slow and costly process of labour court hearings, and claims by employees that they already have adequate ethical standards.

The findings, compiled by labour activist and editor of the journal, Janya Yimprasert, state that employers often advise their workers - with considerable success - to think about the nation's image before organising or staging a strike for better working conditions.

"Employers also use the word 'family' when abuse of workers' rights takes place, or when they want to persuade employees against fighting for their rights under the law," the journal says.

Another grey area is reference to "Thai-ness" as being essentially incompatible with collective bargaining through unionism and strikes, the journal states, and argues: "When trading is already borderless, labour rights deserve to be recognised through universal standards as well. Employers willingly compete in world markets by insisting on 'Asian values' to suppress their workforce."

Another rhetorical issue that gains widespread acceptance in a country where only 3 per cent of the workforce is unionised is that fighting for labour rights may lead to factory relocation, the journal says.

"Some members of Parliament, even some members of the National Human Rights Commission and union leaders themselves, still believe that when Thai workers demand their legal rights, employers will simply shift their production to China or Vietnam. Thus they reason that workers should just 'cope with whatever work conditions exist'."

With low minimum wages of Bt135 to Bt175 a day, the journal argues that many Thai workers end up having to work overtime for an average of three to 10 hours a day just to make ends meet.

This, it states, runs contrary to the ideal of eight hours of work, eight hours of recreation and eight hours of sleep enjoyed by many workers in the West," the journal noted.
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