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US-Thailand: FTA talks may improve work conditions

Bangkok Post, 8 August 2005

FTA talks may improve work conditions

Labour enforcement seen as unsatisfactory


The Thailand-US free area trade talks may help improve working standards of local labour through adequate law enforcement, according to Tim De Meyer, a specialist with the International Labour Organisation in Bangkok.

In the current talks, Thailand must negotiate labour and environment issues with the United States as stipulated in US legislation regarding free trade area talks. The law aims to make sure products exported to the US are not produced under harmful social conditions.

Regarding labour conditions in Thailand, Washington has two major concerns, namely fundamental labour rights and the right of collective bargaining and willingness of the Thai government to enforce legislation.

Mr De Meyer, who is an expert in international labour standards and labour law, said that under US legislation, counterparties in FTA agreements must be committed to enforcing their own labour laws as well as provide basic international rights for workers such as freedom to unionise and partake in collective bargaining.

From the ILO’s point of view, "labour law enforcement in Thailand is unsatisfactory and far below international (ILO) standard", he noted.

In Thailand, only 2-5% of employees in the private sector are members of a labour union. This figure is quite low compared with about 10% in Malaysia, 10%-11% in South Korea, 21% in Singapore and between 30% and 60% in European countries.

Mr De Meyer said the Thai government did not look favourably on big trade unions, as well.

"It is not necessary to compare Thailand with Europe in terms of vacation for workers. But it is necessary to compare workers’ rights in terms of negotiating employment terms with employers," he said.

He said another area where Thailand was lacking involved the number of labour inspectors. As a result, many factories fail to get inspected, especially in rural areas.

He added that it was also important for the Thai government to inform workers about the likely effects of FTA deals particularly with regard to whether each one will create jobs or lead to job losses.

 source: Bangkok Post