Cablegate: Labor Leaders Concerned About Rights and Less Work During

DE RUEHBK #2032/01 2290932
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E.O. 12958, AS AMENDED: N/A


1. (SBU) Summary: Labor leaders from the Eastern Seaboard area
believe that companies may be using the economic downturn to
undermine labor union rights. They also complained to visiting
Econoffs of a lack of enforcement of existing labor protection laws
and Thailand's unwillingness so far to ratify International Labour
Organization Conventions 87 and 98. End Summary.

2. (SBU) On August 3, Econoffs met with a group of six leaders of
the Eastern Area Union Group (EAUG) at its headquarters in Chon Buri
province - approximately two hours southeast of Bangkok - on the
Eastern Seaboard. The Eastern Seaboard is the center of much of
Thailand's industrial production critical to the nation's export-led
economy. Industries centered on the Eastern Seaboard include
petrochemicals and automotives. Created in 1975, the Eastern Area
Union Group began with only two unions but has grown to include 75
labor unions and approximately 50,000 members. Because the Group is
not registered with the Royal Thai Government (RTG) as an official
labor confederation, membership is not restricted to a single
industry. The Group's activities include teaching workers about
their rights and helping workers set up unions. Financial support
for the Group is provided through fundraising and grants from NGOs.

3. (SBU) On August 6, Econoff met with the leader of the Thai Auto
Worker's Federation. As much of the automotive sector is located in
the Eastern Seaboard area, the large majority of this Federation's
activities take place in the Eastern Seaboard area. These include
educating workers on their rights, assisting in the set up or
reinvigoration of unions, mediating conflicts, and providing
assistance in the filing of labor-related complaints. The
Federation is comprised of 33 unions and approximately 22,000

Three Main Concerns
4. (SBU) The main concerns of the labor leaders from the Eastern
Seaboard are threefold. The first involves business practices
associated with the economic downturn. According to the individuals
with whom we spoke, companies in some sectors have begun to rehire
following crisis-driven layoffs earlier this year. (Note: Economic
indicators from June showed a modest recovery in production.
According to a report from Phatra Securities, manufacturing
production rose 3 percent month-on-month, continuing a five month
trend. Auto production improved from a 50 percent year-on-year
(yoy) contraction in the fourth quarter of 2008 (compared to the
fourth quarter one year earlier) to a 29 percent yoy contraction in
June 2009, compared to June 2008. End Note.) While it is a good
sign that the number of layoffs has decreased and companies are
rehiring, labor union officials expressed concern that much of the
rehiring has been through the use of short-term labor contracts. As
a local labor advocate explained, a short-term contract does not
provide all of the protections that a more permanent position
offers. Short term contractors have less job security, do not
receive severance pay, and, in some cases, receive lower pay than
regular workers. When asked about the effects of the economic
crisis, one EAUG leader downplayed the crisis itself and said that
he believed that businesses are taking advantage of the economic
downturn to chip away at benefits provided to laborers.

5. (SBU) The second concern involves the ratification of
International Labour Organization (ILO) Conventions 87 (Freedom of
Association and Protection of the Right to Organize) and 98 (Right
to Organize and Collective Bargaining). According to the leader of
the Thai Auto Worker's Federation, this is the first time that the
Thai Labor movement has been unified in their goals. Labor leaders
have come together to petition the RTG to ratify the two sections.
We were informed that in a recent discussion with Ministry of Labor
officials, it was pointed out that the U.S. has also not ratified
Conventions 87 and 98. Labor leaders have also been publicly albeit
silently advocating for ratification of the Conventions via their
apparel. In nearly every meeting or conference on the topic of
labor attended by Econoffs, people have been wearing t-shirts,
jackets, and hats emblazoned with a call for the ratification of
Conventions 87 and 98.

6. (SBU) The third concern expressed by the leaders is what they
consider the failure of the government to enforce many of the laws
that provide protection to laborers. One representative of the
Eastern Area Union Group said that he believes that government
officials/politicians are afraid to enforce the law for fear of
lawsuits or other types of retribution from wealthy business owners.
He, like other labor leaders with whom we have spoken, believes
that workers have no choice but to engage in street protests to seek
change. According to him, protests are a tool of last resort, but
necessary to draw attention to the lack of enforcement of the laws
as they are written. During our discussion, frustrations were
expressed with politicians in general. Members of the Group said
that despite the attention given to unions while running for office,

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after getting elected, politicians focus their attention on the
demands of wealthy business leaders. When asked their opinion of
the government of Prime Minister Abhisit, one labor leader stated
that the current government seems more honest than previous
governments, and that he is willing to give it more time to see how
it develops policies regarding to organized labor.


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