Wed 1 Jun 2005
Filed under: News,Regional
Unionists claim that the abolition of international import quotas for textiles and garments and the implementation of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) trade initiatives could result in layoffs for 300,000 of the one million Thai textile and garment workers, The Nation reports.
There are about 2,300 textile and garment factories in Thailand, but experts believe the number will eventually fall to 1,500.
“The workers are almost unable to bear the situation,” said Premwadee Chaijantha, a leading textile union member who has been working for 14 years in the industry and earns Bt207 a day.
Premwadee told fellow workers during a seminar organised by Thai Labour Campaign, that besides the threat of layoffs, employees are now facing inhumane working conditions because of sub-contracting and outsourcing.
Rules include requiring workers to meet demanding targets every hour, limiting toilet breaks and the introduction of standing assembly lines aimed at increasing productivity, but to the detriment of the worker’s health.
“Employers have said they have to do these things to reduce production costs,” said Premwadee, who added that as a result many garment and textile workers now hardly have time to take a lunch break.
Wanchai Sornkoi, a union member at Century Textiles Company, said many workers are now faced with unemployment. Over the past few months, 134 workers have been made redundant at the two factories. Many more factories are facing gradual layoffs, but there no reliable statistics to indicate how many people are losing their jobs.
“Some workers did not want to leave but to were told to go,” Wanchai said, adding that workers were expected to become more and more efficient and that many could not cope.
Labour leaders said that they had been caught off guard and had no plans to cope with the changing situation, which included growing competition from China.
They said the changes had become an ideal opportunity for employers to lay workers off and reduce the levels of welfare, as well as weaken the labour movement.
But workers from lower-waged countries like China or Cambodia are not necessarily benefiting.
“The situation is not that different [in Cambodia],” said Oung Supheap, a Cambodian union leader.
Supheap said that workers are often laid-off without any compensation and that the government has sent in police to deal with workers who have tried to demand their rights. In Cambodia, workers in the industry earn an average of US$ 35 (Bt1,400) to $ 45 dollars per month, compared to $ 60 to $ 80 dollars in China and $ 100 to $ 150 in Thailand.
Some of the 240,000 textile and garment workers in Cambodia had been fired only to be re-employed at lower starting salaries later, she said.
Others, like a supplier to one multinational sports brand, kept the toilets at less than adequate levels so that workers spent less time in the bathroom.
May Wong, from he Hong Kong-based Asian Monitoring Resource Centre, said that although China is the best performer in the textile industry, with 20% of the total global export market, its workers are hardly reaping the rewards.
“There’s a highly controlled workforce [in China],” said Wong. “Although one official state union exists, it is not active and does not genuinely represent the 15 million workers in the industry.
“China doesn’t allow workers to create independent unions. They have no collective bargaining power. Workers [in China] are not benefiting. They are heavily exploited and treated as second class citizens,” she said.
Over the past few years, about 200 textile factories have been built in the northern border town of Mae Sod in Chiang Rai Province.
Here, about 100,000 migrant workers from Burma live and work inside some 70 factories – mostly owned by companies in Taiwan or Hong Kong – in appalling conditions.
Workers are allowed only a few hours off a week and are paid just Bt70 to Bt80 a day compared to Bt133-Bt169 a day that Thai workers in the industry receive.
“Once a week, after 5pm on Sundays, they are allowed to leave the factory for just three hours,” said Janya Yimprasert, a labour activist and editor of Labour Focus Magazine, adding that the rest of the time these workers are kept in the fenced factory like prisoners.