Govt reviews strike plans

THAI stoppage spurs transport warning

State transport agencies have been ordered to prepare contingency plans in the wake of the Thai Airways (THAI) labour strike which disrupted dozens of flights and left hundreds of passengers stranded.

Passengers wait to be checked in at Suvarnabhumi airport. Flights operated by Thai Airways International were delayed on Saturday due to a strike by THAI’s ground staff. EPA

The strike ended on Saturday night but rail and bus agencies have been urged to learn from the experience in case their workers walk off the job.

Transport Minister Chadchat Sittipunt said all state enterprises responsible for public services under the ministry must be prepared to handle work stoppages to minimise passenger inconvenience.

The Transport Ministry oversees the State Railway of Thailand, the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority and the Mass Rapid Transit Authority in addition to the national carrier.

"Passengers should not be held hostage. A work stoppage shouldn't affect passengers and cause damage to the organisation and the country as a whole," he said.

Mr Chadchat said the ministry will also discuss with the military about deploying troops to help out in case of a work stoppage by a state agency in charge of public transport.

The labour strike by about 400 Thai Airways ground staff at Suvarnabhumi airport caused delays of 15-20 minutes and at least 30 THAI flights, both domestic and international, were affected.

Luggage handling was the main service affected. Staff from Don Mueang airport were brought in to assist in moving luggage, as were members of the air force.

The protesting airline staff demanded a two-month bonus and a 7.5% pay rise instead of a one-month bonus and a salary hike of 4% offered by the THAI board. Mr Chadchat said he has assigned THAI president Sorajak Kasemsuvan to investigate if the work stoppage caused damage and inconvenience to passengers.

He said negotiations over the demands for higher pay and bonuses were not finalised and the THAI board, chaired by Ampon Kitti-ampon, was still considering the matter.

It was reported that Mr Sorajak agreed with the 7.5% pay rise during negotiations with the workers on Saturday night while the bonus proposal was not concluded.

Mr Chadchat said several factors would have to be considered. A one-month bonus for 20,000 employees would cost more than 1 billion baht.

The transport minister lambasted the THAI staff who went on strike for being inconsiderate.

"[The strike] shouldn't have happened," he said. "Their demand isn't urgent. It isn't a matter of life or death. It can be negotiated.

"How could they possibly do that? They are putting their own interest before the organisation's interest."

THAI labour union chairwoman Jaemsri Sukchoterat said the work stoppage did not cause damage to the company. "We were demanding what we deserved," she said.

THAI management said yesterday it agreed with the 7.5% pay increase for employees whose salary does not exceed 30,000 baht.

The labour union would meet Mr Sorajak today to discuss the bonus demand, management said.

Mr Sorajak said yesterday THAI staff agreed to end the strike on Saturday evening following talks between the labour union and management.

He said the management had asked the labour union to consider the best interests of the organisation.

But he conceded the pay rise would depend on the board decision and he would explain to the board what he had promised to the staff.

Mr Sorajak said the THAI board is scheduled to meet on Feb 8 but it is too early to say if the demand for a higher bonus and a pay increase will be considered. In principle, the proposed 7.5% pay rise will be considered for employees whose salary is between 7,000 baht and 30,000 baht.

Those eligible to receive the rise account for 30% of its workforce.

He said he had received a report of flight delays yesterday morning despite the fact the workers had supposedly called off their strike. Airline services were expected to have fully resumed about noon yesterday, he said.

Deputy Transport Minister Prin Suwannathat said THAI executives have been instructed to assess the damage arising from the strike.

About the author

columnist
Writer: Amornrat Mahitthirook
Position: Reporter