Tailandia - Migrant workers face criminal charges for reporting abuses

On 7 February 2018, 14 Burmese migrant workers were due to stand trial for defamation in a much delayed case. The charges had been brought by the poultry farm where they worked, Thammakaset Company Limited, after they reported the appalling abuse they had suffered.
The workers filed a complaint in July 2016 with the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRCT), claiming that the company paid less than the minimum wage, failed to pay overtime, restricted workers’ freedom of movement and confiscated identity documents, including passports. In August 2016 the NHRCT found that Thammakaset Co Ltd failed to pay minimum and overtime wages as well as provide adequate leave, but rejected allegations of forced labour. The company’s response was to bring charges of criminal defamation against the workers for tarnishing its reputation. Thammakaset also brought charges in November 2016 against Andy Hall of the Migrant Workers’ Rights Network for commenting on the Burmese workers’ case in social media. In December 2016 a labour court found Thammakeset guilty of violating the Labour Protection Act, and ordered it to pay compensation, but the company has appealed to the Supreme Court.
Criminal defamation is increasingly used to deter migrant workers from reporting abuse. Migrants are already vulnerable, as they are not allowed to form trade unions to protect themselves.
At preliminary hearings in August 2017, Thammakaset revived theft charges against two workers for allegedly “stealing” their timecards (workers showed the cards to labour inspectors to prove claims of excessive working hours), despite a decision by the provincial prosecutor in June 2017 to drop these charges because they were without merit.
If found guilty, the Burmese workers could face up to a year and a half in prison, while Andy Hall could potentially face up to seven years in prison.

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