Friday, November 13, 2009

THAI RAILWAY DISPUTE
A. Timeline of events
22 June 2009
The State Railway Workers' Union of Thailand (SRUT) successfully organises a strike action against the government's privatisation plan.
1 October
A passenger train in western Kanchanabhuri province is derailed following heavy rain.
3 October
A fatal rail accident in Hua Hin kills seven passengers and injures many. Apart from the old and underdeveloped train system, staff fatigue is believed to be the cause of the accident. The driver hadn’t had a rest day in the previous month.
4 October
A freight train carrying cement powder is derailed in the north of Bangkok. Based on the 1998 resolution by the cabinet, only five per cent of the 100 retiring staff are replaced annually. Furthermore, the government continues to pursue privatisation plans by setting up four sister rail companies, including the forthcoming Airport Rail Link in Bangkok.
12 - 13 October
SRUT mobilises its branch committee members throughout the country, and its workers in Bangkok's depots, maintenance factories and stations, to go to the Transport Ministry's office in protest at the recent fatal accident and the privatisation plans.
15 October
ITF Thai reports that the State Railway management is refusing to accept fatigue as the cause of the earlier fatal accident. It goes further, dismissing the train driver who was involved in the accident and cutting the salaries of the driver's assistant and the caretaker by 15 per cent for the next 10 months. The union claims that the main causes of the accident were staff shortages and long working hours in addition to budget cuts, old trains and mismanagement in the State Railways (SRT). In this particular case, the union says that the safety system (vigilance device or the so called the ‘deadman’ system) did not function.
16 October
SRUT steps up its campaign by calling its workers to participate in a national industrial action to demand the railway management, Transport Ministry and the government to redress the staff shortage, in particular of locomotive drivers, and to improve the safety standard in rail operation. Locomotive drivers, assistants and technicians start to slow down their work and work stoppages have developed by workers taking voluntary sick leave. The government, Transport Ministry and the rail management launch a counter media campaign to attack the union by releasing misleading information. They say that the safety system is only a supplementary device and that the driver and his assistant are on board to take safety measures during their duties. Furthermore, they jointly announce to that they will be speeding up the rail restructuring plan.
They are also recruit graduate students from the Railway Engineering School and retired locomotive drivers to break the strike.
21 October
The State Enterprise Workers' Relation Confederation (SERC), which brings together unions in public services, transport, electricity, water, energy, banking etc, and the ITF Thai Coordinating Committee release their statements in solidarity with the SRUT.
22 October
SRUT visits the Royal Thai Police (crime suppression division) to file charges against the rail management on violation and incompliance of the Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2001, 2002 and 2009, related to improvement in safety measures.
28 October
The ITF sends a message of protest to the Thai authorities and asks its affiliates to support the rail workers and its union in Thailand.
29 October
Unions including the JRU, FNCTTFEL and CAW send their protest letters.
ITF Thai reports that the police were called in to break up the work stoppage that started from 16 October in the Hat-Yai Branch, southern Thailand. It is believed to be one of the strongholds of the union. Six committee members of the Branch were then dismissed by the management. The rail management has also taken the union to court, demanding 70 million bahts for its loss of earning caused by the industrial action. It is believed that the top leadership of the SRUT at its headquarters in Bangkok will be dismissed very soon. ITF launches its Online Protest.
http://www.itfglobal.org/solidarity/thairail.cfm
30 October
ITF General Secretary writes to the Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, urging his intervention to stop the SRT from victimizing the union members.
http://www.itfglobal.org/files/extranet/-1/18438/StateRailwayUnionWorkersofThailand.pdf
SRUT, SERC and ITF Thai affiliates hold a rally in Bangkok to protest the news of possible dismissals of union leaders.
31 October
The union rally continues.
The SRUT says the Prime Minister has visited Hat-Yai and met with the 6 dismissed union committee members. He promises to meet with the SRUT national leadership on 2 November. The court has not issue arrest warrants of the union leadership as requested by the police before the end of the week. Meanwhile, the management suggests that they may dismiss another 18 unionists. Hundreds send their e-protest from the ITF site including those from Australia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Estonia, Finland, France, Great Britain, Indonesia, Ireland, Japan, Lithuania, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Palestine, Romania, Russia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, USA and Yemen.
B. What are the key issues?
(1) Mismanagement by the State Railway’s Governor Yutthana Thapcharoen
He has failed to improve the safety measures on trains for passengers and workers.
The National Audit Office has pointed out corruption charges against him but the
government has done nothing and is effectively protecting him.
He has violated the Collective Bargaining Agreement by failing to implement safety
measures.
He blames the workers when problems arise, and has never accepted the fact that trains
are not in the proper condition to run.
(2) Safety Measures on Trains
90 per cent of existing trains do not comply with the rules and regulations of the State Railway Act and the CBA signed with the union on 14 August 2001, 4 December 2002 and 23 January 2009. In the agreements it was stated they would fix, repair, and look into all kinds of maintenance in order to ensure that the diesel locomotive, passenger cars, and other components of the train were in a fit state, before running the trains.
Presently, only 20 out of total 170 locomotive cars are equipped with a vigilance device (a safety system also called a 'deadman' control).
Once a fatal accident occurs, the management blames the workers and when the workers refuse to drive trains that are unsafe, they are penalized.
Rules and regulations in the railways were amended in order to recruit 120 graduate students from Railway Engineering School, who have no real experience, and some 20 retired locomotive drivers to drive the train to replace the strikers. This is extremely dangerous. We believe the management don’t care about the safety of passenger and workers and are simply trying to defeat the union.
(3) Fatigue kills the workers
The shortage in the railway workforce comes as a result of the cabinet’s resolution in 1998.
For this reason, many drivers have to work continuously without proper rest. Although they may be working eight hours a day, they cannot take rest days. For example, the driver who was involved in the accident had not had a rest day for a month.
The State Railways (SRT) cannot employ more than five per cent of those reaching the mandatory retirement age of 60.
(4) Privatization
The government recently announced it would be speeding up the restructuring plan to start within three weeks.
However, the earlier agreement between the union and cabinet’s representatives made after the last nationwide strike in June 2009 still exists. It states that any changes or amendments in the State Railway (SRT) that may affect the working conditions of the
railway workers must have the union’s involvement and consent in advance.
(5) Union Busting
The government, the transport minister and SRT management have been trying hard to attack and destroy SRUT and Thai union movement as a whole. Sawit Kaewwarn, the President of SRUT, is also the General Secretary of the State Enterprise Workers Relations Confederation (SERC).
The State Railway of Thailand (SRT) has filed a case against the union, SRUT and its six top union leader. The Songkhla Provincial Court has issued a notice that prohibits the union from performing any industrial action or actions to obstruct the train services.
The names of the six leaders are:
1. Savit Kaewwarn, 2. Pinyo Rueanpetch, 3. Thara Sawangtham, 4. Banjong Boonnet, 5.
Liem Mokngam and 6. Sunanta-Sawangkaew (Mrs)
The government sent armed police to the “Hat Yai” Southern district, where the work stoppage still continues, to break the strike and force the drivers to drive unfit trains with improper safety system. The union’s actions are rather limited and are increasingly becoming more difficult because of the notice issued by the court. The union is trying to find other possible ways to move forward and fight for the safety and the future of the railways and defend the Thai union movement.
They are trying to reach out to the railway communities in various places and to explain the truth about the railways to them.

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