Thai garment workers decry COVID arrests after rare labour win

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Thai garment workers decry COVID arrests after rare labour win

Labour activists claim authorities are selectively enforcing pandemic rules to suppress organising.

Brilliant Alliance workers in Thailand
Thai labour activists have been charged for violating pandemic restrictions after leading successful protests to secure unpaid wages [Courtesy of The Textile Garment And Leather Workers’ Federation of Thailand]

By Kiana Duncan

Published On 13 Jul 202213 Jul 2022

Phnom Penh, Cambodia – When the Thai government in May ordered a Hong Kong clothing company to pay unpaid wages to 1,250 laid-off Thai factory workers, union leader Sia Jampathong knew the rare win would not be the end of the fight.

Jampathong, the president of the Textile, Garment and Leather Workers’ Federation of Thailand, soon had his fears confirmed.


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On July 7, Jampathong, the factory union chairwoman, and four student labour activists were indicted for violating pandemic restrictions on large gatherings during a protest outside Government House in Bangkok last year.

Jampathong does not deny breaching the emergency decree on large gatherings. But he believes authorities are selectively enforcing the rules to keep the labour movement in line after scoring a rare victory in the Southeast Asian country, where workers have minimal protections against exploitation and abuse.

Thailand, which has been governed by former army officer Prayuth Chan-ocha since a 2014 military coup, keeps a tight rein on dissent, with authorities in recent years cracking down on labour activists and pro-democracy protesters.

“It feels like it was discrimination from the government, it was more like an excuse they tried to use on us,” Jampathong told Al Jazeera, adding that the participants in the protests had taken precautions such as wearing masks.

“I think we kept patient for a long time. There were many months that we didn’t come out. It’s proof that the government failed to solve the problem. We had no other options, so we had to bring workers to meet the government.”

Efforts by Al Jazeera to contact the Ministry of Justice for comment were unsuccessful.

labour activists in Thailand
Labour activists claim they are being selectively targeted by authorities for holding protests during 

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