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Army fights labour fears on new front

Posted by pakin On June - 17 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

Sirichai heads off Myanmar worker panic

The junta yesterday moved to calm down panicked alien labourers, including the bulk of Thailand’s foreign workforce from Myanmar, reiterating that there were no harsh crackdowns being planned.

Gen Sirichai Disthakul, chairman of the National Council for Peace and Order’s (NCPO) sub-committee on transnational labour, yesterday led a team to visit employers and migrant workers in Samut Sakhon, a province with one of the largest populations of migrant workers, mostly from Myanmar.

The visit was apparently aimed at curbing problems facing business operators who were losing workers and whose businesses could be damaged by sudden labour shortages, both legal and illegal.

Gen Sirichai asked for cooperation from employers in Samut Sakhon to urgently report to the NCPO the number and names of the Myanmar nationals they were hiring, either legally and illegally.

He said it was part of the NCPO’s measures to manage foreign labourers.

Gen Sirichai said the NCPO plans to pilot its migrant labour management policy in Samut Sakhon and Ranong provinces. They were conducting a survey for the plan which includes residential zoning arrangements and public health services.

Gen Sirichai said Thailand still lacks effective measures to solve foreign worker problems and unity among government agencies to manage the problems.

“We insist that there’s no policy to crack down on foreign workers,” Gen Sirichai said.

NCPO chief Prayuth Chan-ocha also insisted yesterday the NCPO was “regulating” the employers hiring migrant workers and it was crucial to abide by the law by formally registering the migrant labourers who currently live and work in Thailand.

NCPO deputy spokesman Winthai Suvaree also insisted the NCPO did not have any policy to crack down on migrant workers but would have to re-regulate the migrant labour that had been a problem plaguing Thailand for more than a decade.

Government agencies were enacting the principle of re-regulating migrant labour in line with humanitarian principles and international standards, Col Winthai said.

Both employers and migrant workers should benefit from this effort to improve the working and living conditions of migrant workers, he said.

The most urgent issues facing migrant labour include the abuse of child labour, human trafficking, and the corrupt actions of some state officials and labour brokers profiting from illegal businesses associated with migrant workers, Col Winthai said.

Employers of migrant labourers are simply required now to carry on with business as usual while taking the best care of their workers, he said.

The chief aim of the NCPO’s move to re-regulate migrant labour is to correctly register migrant workers so they can live and work in Thailand and receive proper work benefits including health care, he said.

The Samut Sakhon Chamber of Commerce, the Federation of Thai Industries, relevant clubs and associations yesterday also signed a memorandum of understanding not to hire children or illegal workers.

Gen Prayuth had previously vowed to finish registering all alien workers living in Thailand in one year.

There are currently 2,233,015 legal migrant workers in Thailand — 1,741,771 Myanmar nationals, 95,888 from Laos, and 395,356 from Cambodia, said Thanich Numnoi, deputy director-general of the Employment Department.

Of the total, about 1.8 million workers had entered Thailand illegally previously but later went through nationality verification and received permission to live and work temporarily here, Mr Thanich said.

After his visit to Samut Sakhon, Gen Sirichai said the province was conforming properly with the NCPO’s migrant labour management policy and should be used as a model for other provinces.

But he warned that influential figures who earn money from illegal businesses related to migrant labour should stop, or else face harsh action.

Ms Kamolwan, a construction firm owner who asked that her last name be withheld, said her 100 Cambodian workers informed her that they had to go back to Cambodia but promised to return later.

Her small firm was suffering greatly from a labour shortage, she said.

Rumours that some Cambodians had been detained and physically assaulted emerged about a month ago, she said.

“Many of my Cambodian workers insisted their parents were very concerned about their safety and that was why they had to go home,” Ms Kamolwan said.

She urged the government to open a new round of migrant worker registration to turn illegal migrant workers into legal ones, saying the current policy of requiring alien workers to seek visas and work permits requires a lot of time and money.

Sanguan Saengwongkij, vice-president of the association of rubber wood operators in the eastern provinces, said the Cambodian worker exodus had led to several businesses in Rayong’s Klaeng district having to close temporarily.

A state official in Sa Kaeo province who asked not to be named said that the exodus of Cambodian migrant workers had mainly been caused by rumours spread by telephone from Cambodia that Thai soldiers had been capturing and murdering Cambodians.

If the news of the NCPO’s policy to re-regulate migrant labour prompted Cambodian workers to flee, the question was why illegal migrant workers of other nations were not affected by the same news in the same way, said the same official.

Jeerasak Sukhonthachart, permanent secretary for labour in his capacity as deputy chairman of the NCPO’s sub-committee on transnational labour, said the exodus of Cambodian workers has begun to take a toll on businesses.

P. Penh court frees workers, activists

Posted by pakin On May - 30 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

PHNOM PENH – A Cambodian court found 25 people guilty on Friday of acts of violence during strikes by garment workers but all were given suspended sentences and freed, a ruling likely to be welcomed by global manufacturers operating in the country.

The deadly crackdown on the strikes and working conditions in the garment sector have attracted international criticism.

Representatives of global brands including Hennes & Mauritz AB, Gap Inc, Puma SE and Levi Strauss & Co visited Cambodia this week to tell the government their buying would depend on stability, transparency and the rule of law, according to IndustriALL Global Union, a labour group based in Switzerland that attended the talks.

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court judges convicted the workers, trade unionists and protesters of intentional violence including damage to public property during strikes in November last year and January 2014.

They were given suspended jail terms of between one and 4 and a half years.

Cambodia’s garment industry generated US$5.3 billion (172 billion baht) in revenue last year. The industry employs about 600,000 people and strikes for higher pay and better working conditions have been on the rise.

Cambodian military police opened fire with assault rifles on Jan 3 to quell a strike by garment factory workers demanding a doubling of their monthly wage to $160. At least three people were killed.

The government increased the wage to $100 from $80 but unions and workers have refused to accept it.

They have joined forces with the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, which has been protesting on and off for months after claiming it won a general election last July. The party of long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen won according to the election authority and he remains in power.

Levi’s has cut its sourcing from Cambodia in the past year due to concerns about political instability and human rights violations in the country, the group said in an email to Reuters.

“We reduced our sourcing in Cambodia to reduce supply chain risk and ensure delivery. We hope to see swift progress on the outstanding labour and human rights concerns so our sourcing can return to previous levels,” Levi’s said.

Jyrki Raina, general secretary of IndustriALL, said in a statement after the talks with the government: “For the first time global brands have acknowledged that they are prepared to cost in the price of higher salaries in Cambodia.”

Ahead of the verdicts, Mr Raina had said the companies and unions were concerned about the fate of those appearing in court and that Cambodia “was at risk of losing its status as a strategic sourcing market, with an impact on future investment and growth”.

Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said the minimum wage could not be doubled and that it had to go up gradually for the industry to survive. Exports had dropped 17% in the first three months of the year compared with last year, he said.

“There is no country that can double wages,” Ken Loo said, adding that most international buyers had not agreed to pay more to local factories to enable them to increase wages. “If we increase by too much, factories close.”

Move over, rickshaw: Cambodia launches public buses

Posted by Nuttapon_S On February - 11 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

Phnom Penh – – Motorcycles, cars, tuk-tuks and the humble rickshaw dominate its traffic-clogged roads, but now the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh is launching a new weapon in the fight against chronic congestion: its first public buses in over a decade.

Cambodia is lagging behind many of its Southeast Asian neighbours who long ago turned to public transport in a bid to ease traffic gridlock in major cities.

The last time the kingdom tried to introduce public buses in the capital Phnom Penh in 2001, they were a flop.

This time, the rapidly-developing country hopes that commuters are ready to swap the door-to-door convenience of motorbikes for the comfort and safety of public transport. “The main goal is reduce traffic jams,” City Hall senior official Koeut Chhe told AFP.

“We think that people understand about public transport now because some people used to travel overseas so they know about this kind of transport system.”

There is growing frustration in Phnom Penh about daily traffic jams and fatal accidents in the city of about two million people, who compete for space on the roads with more than one million motorbikes and 300,000 cars.

As part of a one-month trial, 10 air-conditioned buses have been running from 5.30 am until 8.30 pm on a single route up and down the length of busy Monivong Boulevard since February 5.

If successful, more routes and buses will be added, Koeut Chhe said.

With a fare of 1,500 riels (35 cents), a bus journey is at least five times cheaper than taking a motorbike taxi — locally known as “moto-dup” — the most common transport in Cambodia.

“I feel safe and cool riding a bus, and it’s cheaper,” 33-year-old passenger Doung Rattana said as she took a bus home for the first time from a market with her nephew.

Many locals, including students and young and old people, have used the new public transport, some taking pictures and chatting with friends about the experience.

’Change of mindset’

It is the second attempt by the City Hall and the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to launch a public bus service to address traffic jams.

A similar project in 2001 was scrapped after about two months due to lack of interest from the public.

JICA said the circumstances nowadays are very different, with much heavier traffic on the road.

“The time is ripe for public buses due to a change of mindset of citizens, who are concerned more about safety and comfort,” said JICA spokesman Masahiko Egami.

However, it remains to be seen how popular the service will be in a city where the “moto-dup” is still king thanks to drivers waiting on street corners or outside markets to whisk passengers straight to their destination.

Information Minister Khieu Kanharith recently wrote on Facebook that the previous trial was not successful because “most of the people wanted to be dropped right in front of their home, did not want to walk far and would not take a bus if they have belongings”.

“Let’s hope it will be successful this time!” added Kanharith.

Travelling by moto-dup — which sometimes carry two or more passengers — is becoming increasing dangerous as the city becomes more developed and its streets fill with luxury cars and SUVs.

Yet the drivers who rely on motorbike taxis for a living say they are not worried for their future.

“The buses would take time so the people who are in a rush will still take moto-dup,” driver Socheat said.

Cambodia unions face court action over strike

Posted by Nuttapon_S On January - 10 - 2014 1 COMMENT

Union leader says judiciary politicised but pledges to fight charges filed by garment-factory owners after two-week row.

Thousands of garment workers have returned to work in Cambodia since a strike for higher pay was put down with deadly force by the authorities last week.

However, employers are now filing cases in courts against trade unions over the two-week dispute.

Khieu Sambo, an attorney representing the firms against the six unions involved in the strike, told Reuters news agency that more than 150 factories had filed cases and more were being prepared.

“The lawsuits will focus on incitement to strike, damage to property and assets, coercion and threatening workers who want to work,” Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), said on Friday.

Chea Mony, president of the Free Trade Union, one of those targeted, said the judiciary was politicised but he would still fight the charges in court.

“They sued us because they want to intimidate us so we won’t strike any more and we won’t help the workers. We are not afraid.”

The garment-makers’ association said most workers had returned to work around the country by Friday.

However, only about 60 percent had shown up at the Canadia Industrial Park in the capital, Phnom Penh.

The park is home to factories that make clothes for Western brands such as Adidas AG, H&M Hennes & Mauritz AB and Puma SE.

The UN human rights agency said this week five people were killed and 20 wounded by gunfire and beatings on January 3 when military police opened fire on the workers, who were demanding a rise in minimum pay to $160 per month from $100.

The government had offered first $95, then $100, a rise of 25 percent.

The unions rejected that but GMAC’s Ken Loo said a minimum wage of $100 would come into force on February 1.

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