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Background + Images: Reinstate Bro. Thanetn

Reinstate Bro. Thanetn:
Call for action to support SIG Workers Union in Thailand

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Thanetn Jhanluechai

The global packaging company, SIG Combibloc, is trying to undermine the union at its packaging plant the Thailand Economic Zone of Rayong by attempting to dismiss union leader Thanetn Jhanluechai for legitimate union activity.

SIG was earlier this year bought by the Rank Group, a growing force in the global packaging market, owned by New Zealand billionaire, Graeme Hart.

In the Rayong Economic Zone SIG runs a packaging plant with 420 workers of whom 220 are union members. SIG union leaders say that they used to have good relationship with the company, but that all changed as the company was preparing for sale and then bought by the NZ Rank Group on 7 May 2007.

The workers noticed an increasing attempt to expand production from the time SIG was being prepared for sale in March 2007. The company initiated a 3 shift per day system of four teams on a rotating roster. For many workers this meant a cut in overtime and therefore weekly pay. The workers say that the machinery is old and with a 24 / 7 operation breakdowns and low productivity are a problem.

One line in particular, the sleeve line, is at the centre of the problem. It is often having breakdowns. In mid April 2007 the company was annoyed that most of the workers on that line took their Songkran (Thai New Year) Holidays which left the line idle when the company wanted to catch up on work. The company has said workers taking their legal entitlements to holidays was union initiated to try and pressure it to gain more benefits.

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The sign at the gate of the industrial zone

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Thanetn wth Robert Reid & Maxine Gay from the NDU.

The company picked on one union leader, Thanetn Jhanluechai, and accused him of organising workers to take their holiday. SIG suspended him pending dismissal as part of its retaliatory action.

Two New Zealand unions involved in the pulp, paper and packaging industry, the NDU and EPMU immediately took up the case following a chance meeting by the NDU President, Robert Reid, and SIG workers while he was visiting Rayong in May. The unions made representations to both the Rank Group and SIG but with no result.

Under Thai Law a union official can only be dismissed with the agreement of the Labour Court. Until that happens, Bro. Thanetn remains suspended on pay. There have now been three inconclusive Labour Court hearings in Rayong on 21 May, 7 and 26 June 2007 regarding the dismissal. The company has subsequently cross-filed a claim in the Chonburi Labour Court. The SIG union believes that the company wants the case transferred to the next-door province to make it more difficult for union members to attend to support Bro. Thanetn. He has strong support in Rayong.

There have now been two inconclusive hearings in the Chonburi Labour Court on 2 and 15 August 2007. In all cases the company has offered Bro. Thanetn compensation and damages provided he accepts termination. Bro. Thanetn has rejected these offers on each occasion. The further hearing set down for 17 September in Chonburi has now been transferred until 13 December 2007.

The company has used the opportunity of Bro Thanetn’s absence from work to try and further undermine the union.

Since the suspension of Bro. Thanetn, the Employee Committee (EC), the body composed of union nominated worker representatives and management representatives has not held its bi-monthly meeting because the company will not allow Bro. Thanetn on the company premises and the union nominees will not attend the meeting without Bro. Thanetn. The company’s HR Manager has now tried to set up an alternative “activities” committee to replace the EC because he says the EC is not able to fulfil its responsibilities.

The HR Manager has also visited the local union organising centre in Rayong. This visit was out of the blue and the HR Manager proposed to the union organising centre staff that Bro. Thanetn could be reinstated if he accepts responsibility for persuading workers not to work on a public holiday and accepts a final warning. However Bro. Thanetn and the SIG union are concerned with this “compromise” as Bro. Thanetn denies that he forced workers not to work on the holiday and does not want such a warning on his record. He and SIG union are also concerned that if Bro Thanetn did accept responsibility then the company may backtrack on its agreement to reinstate him and just take his admission of guilt to Labour Court as evidence of wrong doing.

On 2 October 2007, Philip Jennings, General Secretary of the UNI Global Union wrote to Karl Eagle, CEO of SIG Combibloc seeking the immediate reinstatement of Bro.Thanetn.

The reply from Karl Eagle on 22 October was a complete cop-out. He stated:

There is a case currently before the Thai Labor Court which involves Khun Thanetn and the next hearing is due to be held on 13 December 2007. SIG Combibloc Ltd. believes that the law is in place to deal with such matters and we shall of course respect the law and any outcome arising out of the conclusion of this case. We do not feel that it would be appropriate at this time to make any further comment.

The SIG Workers Union in Thailand, the NDU and EPMU in New Zealand and the UNI and ICEM Global Unions ask you to email SIG Combibloc urging the company to immediately reinstate Bro. Thanetn and drop all disciplinary action against him.

We are wanting to build pressure from 16 November until the hearing in the Labour Court on 13 December 2007 to try and get the company to withdraw the suspension and drop actions against Bro. Thanetn.

The Thailand based management that the SIG union requests that emails should be sent to are:

Kevin Mackenzie (Rank Group HR Manager)
Karl Eagle (CEO, SIG, Thailand)

Further information on the Rank Company and its march to dominate the global packaging business can be found at the following links.


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