วันอาทิตย์ที่ 21 กันยายน พ.ศ. 2551

Triumph Labour Union downs tools, demands reinstatement of its leader


1 August 2008

On July 30, thousands of workers walked off the job to demand that Body Fashion (Thailand) Ltd reinstate union leader Jitra Kotchadej after the company had dismissed her for wearing a campaign t-shirt challenging lèse majesté laws when she appeared on a TV programme in late April. They also demanded the executives be removed for failing to establish good relationships with the workers, and causing rifts among them.

Wanpen Wongsombat, member of the Triumph International (Thailand) Labour Union committee, said that Kenneth Marshall, an executive, had summoned Jitra to tell her that the company was not concerned about her action of wearing the t-shirt. And it was a non-issue during when the union later presented demands on working conditions. But it was raised just after the negotiations were settled. The workers’ perception is that the company is playing games with the union, or wants to destroy the union.

“If [Jitra] were not the union leader, I’m sure there would have been no problem. The company is trying to make a case out of it, despite the fact that it has said that it was not concerned. The company has 4-5,000 workers, and nearly 4,000 are union members,” said Wanpen.

Wanpen was concerned that the dismissal of the union leader who had led negotiations might set a precedent for future leaders. And she questioned the company’s action in lodging a complaint to seek to dismiss Jitra for damaging its reputation at the Labour Court, as the company had never provided her a chance to defend herself in court, as Jitra insisted that she had never received any court summons.

According to Wanpen, nearly 3,000 workers started walking out at 7am, gathering both inside and outside the factory, in an action that differs from a strike which must be preceded by written notification to the employer.
At about 9.40 am, 5 union representatives started negotiations with the company, with provincial labour officers acting as mediators.

In response to demands for the unconditional reinstatement of Jitra and no reprisals against the protesting workers, the company insisted on the dismissal, and was in the process of seeking court orders for discipline punishment/penalty 20 employee committee members and suspend 25 leading workers from work for two weeks without pay, claiming that they closed the entrance to block other workers.

Jitra said people are entitled to the right to freedom of speech. The case of Chotisak Onsoong, whether he is in the right or not, must follow legal due process. She just wanted to support Chotisak’s right to think differently, as people with differing views should not be condemned as ‘animals’ or being ‘un-Thai’ that deserve be killed, attacked or expelled from the country, as had happened to Chotisak .

Jitra dismissed allegations trying to link her and her colleagues to the anti-coup, pro-Thaksin United Front of Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) group. After the Sept 19, 2006 coup, the Confederation of Textile, Garment, and Leatherwear Labour of Thailand, where she served as Secretary-General, forged a coalition of 12 organizations against the coup. Later, when the coalition joined forces with the pro-Thaksin PTV to form the UDD, the confederation immediately withdrew, and participated in activities of the Sept 19 Anti-coup group instead.

“We had nothing to do with the UDD. We were against the coup. And we were not supporters of Thaksin, as we had never agreed with him. We were against both. That was our clear stand,” said Jitra.

Jitra said it had been almost three months since she appeared on the TV programme. The company still enjoyed export of 90% of its products. The company should instead have sued the Manager website for damages for allowing comments to be posted threatening a boycott of the company’s products.

Earlier in the morning, Jitra went to the Provincial Labour Court to scrutinize the company’s legal proceedings, as she had never received a court summons. She found that the summons had been sent to her previous rented address which she had long since left. It was obvious that the company wanted to persecute the union, because she went to work every day, but was never informed about the summons, Jitra said.

The Body Fashion (Thailand) Ltd, located at the Muang Mai Bang Phli Industrial Estate in Samut Prakan, produces women’s underwear, swim suits, sportswear and leisurewear under the Triumph trademark, with sub-brands Sloggi, Bee Dees, and Triumph Sport.