Myanmar workers fight defamation charges in chicken farm case
published : 5 Oct 2017 at 02:04
writer: Thomson Reuters Foundation
A group of migrant workers from Myanmar have pledged to fight a landmark case after they were charged in court Wednesday with criminal defamation for accusing a chicken farm that supplies the European Union of mistreatment and labour abuses.
The case was triggered by a complaint the 14 workers filed to Thailand's National Human Rights Commission in 2016. The petition claimed they were forced to work overtime, unlawful deductions were made from their salaries and their passports were confiscated.
The Thammakaset Farm 2 of Lop Buri province denied every charge from the outset. The farm then launched the lawsuit against the workers, saying their complaint has damaged its reputation.
The owner refused further comment on Wednesday unless his five-paragraph statement was printed in full and unedited, which media have refused to agree to.
The workers' lawyer Nakhon Chompuchat said this was the first time migrant workers have faced criminal defamation charges in Thailand. The charges carry a maximum penalty of two years in prison.
"They are not guilty and they will fight this in court," Nakhon said by phone.
"They just want to protect themselves and their rights. They merely asked the National Human Rights Commission to investigate their complaint, that was their intention," he added.
The workers pleaded not guilty in court on Wednesday and were granted bail pending the start of the trial next February.
In the face of mounting scrutiny of supply chains, Thailand - Southeast Asia's second-largest economy - has strengthened laws to crack down on labour exploitation, but activists said the practice is still widespread.
The Thammakaset farm workers claimed they clocked 20 hours a day for 40 days straight during intensive chick-rearing periods, sleeping in hammocks next to the warehouses where the flock lived.
They earned 230 a day, though the legal daily minimum wage for eight-hour days is 300 baht, with one day off per week.
The farm owner has denied any wrongdoing and argued the staff voluntarily worked nights to rack up bonuses, and chose to sleep next to the chicken warehouse.