Tailandia - New law used to repress peaceful union protest and intimidate leaders

On 6 January 2016, three police units backed up by military forces were used to break up a protest rally by 500 locked-out workers at Japanese-owned auto-part supplier Sanko Gosei outside the Ministry of Labour in Bangkok. The government invoked new powers under the Public Assembly Act 2015, which carries a penalty of up to ten years in prison for causing a disturbance or disruption of public services.

More than 600 Sanko Gosei workers, all union members, were locked out from their factory on 20 December 2015 after negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement and bonuses broke down. The company claimed that it was unprofitable. In the meantime, however, casual workers were brought in to replace the locked out workers. The Sanko Gosei Workers Union accuses the company of using the dispute to bust the union and replace permanent workers with subcontractors.

After the rally was broken up, two union leaders, Chalee Loysoong, Vice President of the Thai Labour Solidarity Committee (TLSC) and Amorndech Srimuang, President of the Sanko Gosei Workers Union, were questioned by the authorities for about four hours. During this time their phones and ID cards were temporarily confiscated and they were escorted at all times, even to the bathroom. The union leaders had taken part in mediation negotiations with Sanko Gosei and the Ministry of Labour during the day, as the rally was taking place outside.

The intimidation continued the next day when Wilaiwan Saetia, the President of the TLSC, was followed from the factory to her house by four or five military officers both in uniform and plainclothes. Yongyut Mentapao, Vice President of the TLSC, also reported that he had been followed by military and police officers from unidentified units.

The following week, on Wednesday 13 January 2016, five military officers visited Wilaiwan Saetia at the office of the Om Noi/Om Yai Labour Union in Samut Sakhon Province at around 8.00 p.m. At the discussion, which lasted until about 11.00 p.m., the officers cited their authority under Section 44 of the Interim Charter, which gives officers absolute power to maintain security, and informed the TLSC leader that henceforward she had to inform the military first before making any political moves.

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