Workers in Thai aviation sector protest “unfair and illegal” contracts

Workers of Thailand’s struggling flag carrier Thai Airways International (THAI) are protesting the restructuring plan for the airline which might see them face job losses and pay cuts

March 13, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch

Restructuring plans which are purportedly aimed at reviving Thailand’s struggling flag carrier Thai Airways International (THAI) are being opposed by workers who are set to face job losses and pay cuts. On Friday, March 12, trade union leaders representing the workers of THAI met Thailand’s labor minister Suchart Chomklin to raise their complaints over the new employment contracts that they claim are both “unfair and illegal.”

The restructuring plans include a drastic reduction of the workforce of THAI from 19,500 to 13,000-15,000 in the next five years. It will also include a revision of contracts of thousands of employees and anywhere between 5,000 to 6,000 voluntary redundancies. Union president Siripong Sukrakanchanachoke and union advisor Nares Puengyam, who met with Chomklin, argued that the new contracts will significantly cut down wages and benefits.

Despite the company’s denials, the labor union has consistently alleged that THAI put pressure on its employees to enter into new work agreements, including asking them to resign and re-enter with new contracts. This was evident by its decision to have all workers who choose to continue working to apply for new contracts between March 11 and 19.

According to Siripong, as reported by the Jakarta Post, the new agreements stand in violation of the State Enterprise Relations Act, and are opaque and threaten job security. He claimed that workers are also not given enough information of where they will be assigned or if they have a future in the company.

The complaint comes days after a similar case of workers being coerced into unfavorable contracts conducting a massive protest in Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport. On Wednesday, close to 300 airport security workers working with the AOT Aviation Security (AOT AVSEC) held protests against new contracts that the company has been forcing on the employees.

AOT AVSEC is a joint venture of the Airports of Thailand (AOT) and three private companies, and was launched in 2020. Workers have argued that after the setting up of the firm to handle security in the airports, working conditions have only worsened, especially during the pandemic.

During the protest, Ampai Wivatthanasathapat, president of a workers’ union at the Suvarnabhumi airport stated that “COVID-19 has hit both workers and businesses hard, but businesses are also exploiting the pandemic to erode the rights of airport workers.”

The Thai aviation sector, much like elsewhere, suffered unprecedented losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. THAI’s restructuring plans come after the company incurred billions of dollars of losses in the past few years, especially in 2020 due to the pandemic when it posted a record loss of THB 141.2 billion (approximately USD 4.7 billion), while its total debt has come up to THB 338.9 billion (around USD 11 billion) as of September 2020. Last year, THAI for lost its status of being a state-run enterprise, as the share of the government went below 50% in debt rehabilitation plans.

Likewise, airports also have had to deal with drastically reduced or completely no traffic due to government-imposed travel restrictions and other counter-pandemic measures.

This has prompted several companies associated with the airlines and airports business to take anti-worker measures, even as the government has to intervene to pull them out of financial doldrums.