31 July 2008
The leader of one of Thailand’s largest textile labour unions has been fired because she wore a campaign T-shirt challenging lèse majesté laws when she appeared on a TV programme.
Jitra Kotchadet, leader of the Triumph International (Thailand) Labor Union, wore a black campaign t-shirt with the slogan ‘Not Standing is No Crime, Different Thinking is No Crime’, while appearing as a guest on the NBT channel’s Krong Satanakarn talk-show programme to discuss the issue of abortion on April 24, 2008. The campaign was in support of Chotisak Onsoong who had been charged with lèse majesté for not standing for the royal anthem in a cinema.
After the broadcast, Jitra’s choice to wear the T-shirt was made a target of criticism by the Manager media group and the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) (see 130 activists and academics condemn Manager media group). She was summoned by her employer for an explanation, and she explained that she was wearing it during the airtime at that night, not working time, and her trade union was a separate legal entity that did not represent the Body Fashion (Thailand) Ltd. She insisted on her right to wear the shirt and support the cause. Her employer went silent. During that time, the trade union was preparing to make demands, which were quite strong, and they even planned to call a strike. However, things went smoothly, with the employer’s partial consent to the demands.
Jitra said that the employer however later lodged a complaint at the Labour Court seeking to dismiss her for deliberately damaging the company’s reputation by wearing the shirt. The company claimed that her support for Chotisak in his lèse majesté case created a public perception that the company also supported Chotisak’s action, hence the court case to clear its name.
Jitra said that on July 29 she was summoned to meet the employer and was told termination of her employment was allowed by the Court as of July 8, but the employer said that they instead chose to inform her on that day and the termination would take effect on the following day, July 30. According to the employer, a summons had been issued for her twice, but she had never seen them. She believed that her dismissal was part of an attempt to abolish the union, using the lèse majesté as a pretext.
As leader of the union, Jitra has always fought the employer for welfare improvements, including shuttle bus services, costs of workers’ uniforms, etc.
Jitra has been working for 16 years, and has been active in the labour movement. At her age and because of her past activities, she doubts she could find employment elsewhere.