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Chinese Nobel laureate’s wife detained

Posted by arnon_k On October - 11 - 2010 ADD COMMENTS

The wife of Chinese Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo said she is under house arrest at her home in Beijing and pleaded for help in broadcasting her plight.

“Brothers, I have returned home. On the eighth (October) they placed me under house arrest. I don’t know when I will be able to see anyone,” said a Sunday night posting on Liu Xia’s Twitter account.

She said she had just returned from visiting her husband in a prison in northeastern China, where she informed Liu of his award, but that she was now being detained incommunicado.

“My mobile phone is broken and I cannot call or receive calls. I saw Xiaobo and told him on the ninth at the prison that he won the prize. I will let you know more later. Everyone, please help me tweet. Thanks,” she said.

Liu Xiaobo, the first Chinese citizen to win the Nobel Peace Prize, is a 54-year-old writer who was imprisoned after authoring Charter 08, a manifesto signed by thousands seeking greater rights in the communist nation.

He is serving an 11-year jail sentence for subversion at Jinzhou prison in Liaoning province.

The US-based group Human Rights in China (HRIC) on Sunday quoted Liu Xia saying that her husband had dedicated the award to the “lost souls” who died in the violent suppression of mass protests at Tiananmen Square in 1989.

A former university professor, Liu Xiaobo had been a key figure in the protests.

Authorities detained dozens of Liu’s supporters in Beijing, Shanghai and other cities Friday as they celebrated his award.

Engineers Sunday rushed to reinforce a shaft through which to hoist 33 men trapped over two months down a mine in Chile, as the men below argued over who should be let up first.

“I would like to illustrate what they are going through today with a conversation we had yesterday,” Health Minister Jaime Manalich told a press conference near the San Jose mine.

“I questioned them and mentioned we were working on an order in which they would be brought out. I said the order would be determined by technical factors.

“And what was their reaction? ‘Mr. Minister, that’s fine but I want to go last please.’ And then another guy said, ‘No, my friend, I said that I was going to be the last one up.’ ‘No, no, really — I want to go last, please,’ another guy started saying.”

By being able to put aside their needs and wanting their colleagues to have a chance at freedom and fresh air first, “they have had a really commendable spirit, of solidarity and commitment to their friends,” Manalich stressed.

As to their health condition, the minister said they were doing well, and were in “very good shape. The people at the bottom of the mine were healthy people the day of the accident.”

In addition “they are mature people and very self-sufficient people, who have been able to face a test the likes of which probably no one has in human history,” Manalich said.

The miners will begin a special liquid diet about 12 hours ahead of the rescue operation expected to start Wednesday.The aim is to reduce any nausea and vomiting during their removal from the depths of the mine, while still keeping up their caloric intake.

Engineers meanwhile were reinforcing the shaft that will be used to finally free the men.

Saturday, rescuers announced they had completed a 622-meter (2,040-foot) deep shaft through to the emergency shelter where the men have survived since the August 5 collapse at the gold and copper mine in northern Chile.

Mining Minister Laurence Golborne told reporters the men could begin the ascent, one by one, on Wednesday. An additional 48 hours are needed to install the metal cage and the complex pulley system for lowering it to the miners and lifting them out.

The first group of miners to exit will be several of the strongest men, followed by a group considered the weakest due to chronic health problems like high blood pressure or lung ailments, and ending with more of the stronger ones, officials said.

If the timetable holds, all the miners could expect to end their ordeal of nearly two and half months by Friday.

They have been trapped deep beneath the desert floor after a partial collapse that blocked the mine exit, surviving longer than anyone has before under similar circumstances.

For weeks the men were feared dead. But on August 22 they attached a note to a drill bit that had broken through to the chamber where they had taken shelter, saying they were all alive, well and awaiting rescue.

Hundreds of journalists and camera crews from around the world have converged on the mine, hoping to capture the first images of the miners at the surface.

How much should workers earn?

Posted by arnon_k On October - 11 - 2010 1 COMMENT

Most people agree minimum wages should rise but say a single nationwide rate is impractical and could have negative consequences.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s proposal to raise the daily minimum wage to 250 baht nationwide – 21% higher than today’s rate in Bangkok – continues to provoke a lively debate among employers and economists.

Employers say it would be impossible to maintain one minimum wage nationwide, citing different wage structures in each province. Labour unions strongly support the idea, with some saying 420 baht would be a more appropriate rate.

The economic intelligence centre of Siam Commercial Bank (SCB) said that if 250 baht was the final rate, entrepreneurs in 39 of the 76 provinces would be hard hit, because they now pay their workers much less than that.

It said a rate of 250 baht would be 66% higher than the lowest daily wage now paid – 151 baht in remote provinces including Mae Hong Son and Phayao.

The centre’s labour force survey in the first quarter showed the average wage in Bangkok, Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani and Phuket was already higher than 250 baht. Thus, paying 250 baht a day would affect entrepreneurs in those areas only slightly.

Much more heavily affected would be entrepreneurs in Mae Hong Son, Phayao and Si Sa Ket, where the proposed rate would mean a wage increase of 99 baht per day per worker, said the research centre.

Mr Abhisit said that what he proposed was not yet final but insisted the minimum wage must increase. By how much is what agencies must study, and he has asked the Finance Ministry to look into the matter.

Mr Abhisit voiced concern about foreign labour being paid less than the minimum wage.

But critics say the prime minster’s idea of a flat 250-baht rate nationwide is merely another populist policy from the Democrat-led coalition government in case a general election is called. Fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra also promised once that the minimum wage would rise to 300 baht if the Puea Thai party that supports him won an election.

“So whether it’s 250 baht or 300 baht, it’s just the same thing – a tactic to win popular support,” said one critic.

Payungsak Chartsutipol, chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries (FTI), said the circumstances in each province were different, such as the ability of employers to pay and the cost of living.

In the end, the issue is up to the tripartite Central Wage Committee, which includes government, employer and labour representatives, and this would depend on various factors, he said.

“People have been saying the rate could rise by seven to 10 baht in Bangkok, but it’s really up to the committee,” said Mr Payungsak.

“However, a single rate for the whole country is inappropriate. We need to consider both the employers and the employees – if employers cannot survive, then neither can their workers.”

The private sector has proposed a wage system based on workers’ skills.

Mr Payungsak said that not only should business operators improve their workers’ efficiency, workers should also improve themselves.

For the long term, the FTI plans to reach out to provincial areas and co-operate with various agencies, he said.

“We want to create a supply chain for business operators in regional areas and for different sectors. We could also provide them with technology,” he said.

Surapong Paisitpatnapong, spokesman for the FTI’s Automotive Industry Club, said labour-intensive industries would face a sharp increase in costs, in turn lowering their ability to compete with neighbouring countries.

“However, in the automotive sector we already provide a considerable amount of bonuses and overtime pay,” said Mr Surapong, adding that increasing workers’ skills is an important element.

Kampon Adireksombat, a senior economist at SCB, said not all occupations should even have a minimum wage, as that would distort the market. It should be left to the market to decide.

Sethaput Suthiwart-narueput, a chief economist and executive vice-president at SCB, called the move “too aggressive and inappropriate”.

He said growth in Thailand’s labour force averaged only one percent over the past decade, lower than for the region.

In the next 10 years, the average will drop to 0.2% due to the ageing population, said Mr Sethaput. “That would be okay if we upgraded skills [among the labour force], but we have not been doing that.”

Out of Thailand’s population of 67 million, 38 million are in the labour force – 17 million salaried workers and 21 million self-employed.

Dr Sethaput said 9 million workers are receiving daily wages, while 8 million earn monthly salaries.

“This way, the willingness of employers to invest in people is going to be quite slow for those receiving daily wages,” he said.

Labour Minister Chalermchai Sri-on said the wage committee had received proposals from each province and would finalise a decision this month, with rates to take effect on Jan 1.

He expressed hope for a “quantum leap” in minimum wages, not just a one- or two-baht increase.

Next year, wages will be based on skills as proposed by the private sector, said Mr Chalermchai.

“The most important issue will be development of human resources. Workers will have to pass a standard skills test,” he said.

Srithai Superware said an increase in the minimum wage to 250 baht a day would add to to its already heavy burden.

At a rate of 250 baht, Srithai would face an extra 2 million baht in salaries for monthly-paid workers or a 10.5% increase.

At a rate of 420 baht as proposed by some unions, the increase would be 41.7 million baht or 40% per month.

For daily-paid workers, the company would have to pay 2.6 million baht more or a 31% increase at the 250-baht rate and an additional 10 million baht or 122% more for the 420-baht proposal.

Srithai currently pays 8,000 to 8,500 baht a month for a 12-hour workday to low-income staff and more for skilled workers.

Red shirts call for release of detainees

Posted by arnon_k On October - 11 - 2010 ADD COMMENTS

Motor rally marks clash anniversary

Red shirt demonstrators have used a motor rally around Bangkok to call for the release of almost 300 protesters who have been arrested and detained under the emergency decree over the past six months.

About 1,000 red shirt members yesterday joined the rally to remember the April 10 clashes six months ago between red shirt demonstrators and government forces at Khok Wua intersection. Twenty-six people were killed and over 800 were injured in the clash.

Police arrested red shirt supporters on April 10 and many more in rioting on May 19 when the red shirt rally in Bangkok was brought to an end.

They were charged with breaching the emergency decree and with terrorism, said Chaiwat Trakarnratsanti, coordinator of the Progressive Democracy Group (PDG), which organised yesterday’s rally.

“We want the government to release all red shirt detainees immediately because they are not terrorists,” Mr Chaiwat said.

“They are innocent civilians who just wanted to express their political stance.”

The red shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship set up camp in Bangkok’s streets from March 12 to May 19 to demand that the Abhisit Vejjajiva government dissolve the House and call a general election.

The protest turned violent a second time after government forces reclaimed the main demonstration site in the Ratchaprasong area on May 19, bringing an end to the 67-day rally.

Clashes over the period claimed 92 lives and left 1,400 people injured.

The red shirts have been gathering every Sunday in Bangkok and other provinces since to commemorate the clashes.

A woman in her 40s who supports the red shirts said yesterday she and her friends joined the weekly gatherings because the government was treating red shirt supporters unfairly.

State agencies have closed red shirt websites for alleged violations of the Computer Crime Act, she said.

The PDG, an alliance of businessmen and academics, said about 300 red shirt supporters were being held in prisons nationwide.

The group said it would organise activities and gatherings to demand justice for families of the red shirt victims and to call for the release of all red shirt detainees.

Hundreds of uniformed and plain-clothed police were deployed at the rally sites yesterday.

The red shirts gathered at Lumpini Park in the morning to make merit for those who died in the April-May clashes.

They later moved to nearby Ratchaprasong intersection, where the motor rally was launched.

The motor procession moved from Ratchaprasong to Pratunam, Din Daeng, the Victory Monument, Phetchaburi intersection, Phan Fa Bridge on Ratchadamnoen Avenue and finished at Khok Wua intersection.

Red shirt supporters lighted red candles and released lanterns into the sky to mourn those who died.

Traffic lanes around the Democracy Monument on Ratchadamnoen Avenue were blocked for about an hour amid tight security.

Large crowds turned out.

Sombat Boonngarm-anong, another red shirt leader who organised the candle ceremony, demanded Prime Minister Abhisit apologise to relatives of red shirts who lost loved ones in the clashes.

“People must be held responsible for the violence,” Mr Sombat said.