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Representatives of 95 labour unions gathered at parliament on Wednesday (28 February) to show support for a new labour protection bill proposed by the Move Forward Party (MFP) and call for the bill to be approved in its first reading.

Representatives of the 95 unions and the Labour Network for People's Rights handing their open letter to MPs from the Move Forward Party.

The Labour Network for People’s Rights, along with representatives of 95 labour unions, filed an open letter with MFP MP Sia Jampatong calling for parliament to approve the bill in its first reading.

The letter says that workers in Thailand still face injustice under the current labour protection law, from unfair wages and unsafe working condition to overwork. Existing laws are also outdated and ignore new forms of employment. Changing the labour protection law is therefore important to protecting workers’ rights, guaranteeing fair employment, and improving their quality of life.

If passed, the bill would re-define employment to include independent workers, freelancers, and platform workers like food delivery riders, so that all are protected under the labour law. It would require those employing both daily and monthly workers to hire all workers on a monthly basis, and for the minimum wage to be increased automatically every year. Companies will also be required to provide pumping space and equipment for employees who are breastfeeding mothers.

The bill would also limit the work week to 40 hours or 5 days per week. Employers would be required to give their workers 2 days off per week and to pay overtime for any working hours that exceeded the legal limit. Annual leave would be set at least 10 days per year, and remaining days would carry over to the next year. Employees would also be allowed to take up to 15 days off to care for family members or other close relations.

The bill also prohibits all forms of discrimination, whether on the basis of ethnicity, place of origin, disability, or political stance.

Thanaporn Wichan

Thanaporn Wichan, a labour rights activist from the Labour Network for People’s Rights, stressed that the unions are backing the bill because the existing labour protection law, which was last amended in 1998, is not inclusive, and the MFP’s bill would make it so that all workers are protected.

The bill would also set a minimum requirement for employers, Thanaporn said, noting that young people entering the workforce would have more security if the law can be enforced, since they would receive a fairer employment and benefit programmes.

“We’re not looking at just our generation that used the current law, but we’re talking about the new generation of workers, our children’s generation, or the generation who just finished school and going into work. They have to live with this protection law,” she said.

“If this law is strong, for example, there is a fairer employment or fairer welfare, your employment would be secure. It will talk about the career of new workers who are entering the job market. They will have more security in their work.”

Thanaporn noted that it is difficult for unions to demand a pay raise each year, because they have no negotiating power, and it would be very beneficial if the law could guarantee an annual raise so that wages match the yearly inflation rate. She also said that the labour relations law, which governs the foundation of labour unions, should be made stronger and more inclusive so that workers have the power to negotiate better welfare. There should also be freedom and democracy in the workplace, she said, and workers should be allowed the space to voice their concerns instead of allowing companies to exploit workers to the point that they have to go on strike. It would be better for both employers and employees if there was a space for workers to express their opinions, she said.

Thanaporn calls on all MPs to pass the bill in its first reading, since the current version of the Labour Protection Act has been in use since 1998 and has not been amended since. She hopes that parliament can be used as a space for a debate on what should be included in the labour protection law.

“Don’t look at it as an excessive demand and reject our law. We want you to accept the principle that the labour protection law should be amended. [The law has existed] since 1998. Now it’s 2024. It should be amended, and we might use this space for a debate because the parliamentary mechanism could include representatives of employers who disagree with this law. We should try exchanging and see what the solution would be. I think that if there is a space to talk, there will be a solution,” she said.

The bill was previously scheduled to go before parliament on Wednesday (28 January). However, its first reading has been postponed to next Wednesday (6 February), when the Cabinet will propose its own labour protection bill.

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