US tells Thailand to allow foreign worker unions

US tells Thailand to allow foreign worker unions

Foreign workers register at the Labour Ministry in June. APICHIT JINAKUL
Foreign workers register at the Labour Ministry in June. APICHIT JINAKUL

The US is calling on Thailand to alter its labour laws and allow foreign workers to set up labour unions here in order to protect workers' rights.

Boonyarit Kalayanamit, director-general of the Commerce Ministry's Internal Trade Department, said Lewis Karesh, assistant US trade representative (USTR) for labour, proposed during a visit on Thursday Thailand amend labour laws to let foreign workers set up unions in accordance with international labour practices.

Mr Karesh also called on the Thai government to amend the law to protect foreign workers in the event their Thai employers try to punish them for forming a union.

Mr Boonyarit quoted Mr Karesh as saying the labour proposals will be used as one condition for whether the US renews the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) for Thailand.

Nonetheless, Mr Boonyarit said such proposals fall to the Labour Ministry, not the Commerce Ministry.

He said authorities have become concerned about the US threat, as the GSP extension is at the US's discretion.

Mr Boonyarit said the USTR also followed up on the progress of the US's request for Thailand to remove restrictions on imports of US pork.

But he said the Commerce Ministry could not make a decision by itself on such a request. The issue should be decided by a joint committee set up by the Commerce and Agriculture ministries.

In April, the US-based National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) filed a GSP review with the trade representative, citing Thailand's failure to provide market access for US products, including pork.

The group said Thailand, through exorbitant tariffs and "de facto bans", severely limits US pork imports while enjoying a most-favoured-nation (MFN) tariff rate on agriculture exports to the US.

The NPPC urged the Trump administration to withdraw or limit Thailand's benefits under the MFN programme, which allows for removal of a country's benefits if the US is not permitted fair and reasonable access to the market.

In 2017, US pork exports to Thailand totalled 31 tonnes valued at roughly $128,000 (4.15 million baht), according to the US Meat Export Federation.

The EU supplies the vast majority of Thailand's imported pork, the USMEF said.

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