Labour policy lacks common touch

Labour policy lacks common touch

Tripartite committees failing to court unbiased input

Employers and employees alike say that the three-party system set up to solve labour problems always boils down to what the government wants. (File photo)
Employers and employees alike say that the three-party system set up to solve labour problems always boils down to what the government wants. (File photo)

The Ministry of Labour has used the tripartite committee mechanism to solve problems on labour issues for more than three decades but it has recently come under fire from both employers and workers.

Because labour policy has a direct effect on the public, the law requires input from committees comprising employers, labourers and the state policymakers themselves.

At the moment, there are about 20 tripartite committees dealing with various issues such as wages, welfare and social security. Committee members were originally appointed by the labour minister, but over the past 15 years, they have been selected through voting among representative groups.

It might sound like an inclusive system. However, in practice, many believe this is not the case at all, and the loudest voice is always that of the state.

"I stopped attending public hearings on labour laws a long time ago because I felt like my input wasn't being taken seriously. The hearings serve only as a 'rubber stamp' for various proposals," an employer told the Bangkok Post on condition of anonymity.

"The ministry has always claimed the cooperation among employers, labourers and state authorities was mirrored in the committees' operations but this is not what happens," he said during a meeting by groups of employers held last week.

Those in attendance concluded they would send letters to Labour Minister Pol Gen Adul Sangsingkeo urging the state to ratify the Convention concerning Tripartite Consultations to Promote the Implementation of International Labour Standards, known as Convention No.144 or "C144".

The convention comes under the umbrella of the United Nations's International Labour Organisation (ILO). The treaty calls for the Thai government and the Ministry of Labour to create a mechanism to allow employers and labourers to have meaningful participation in labour policy.

To date, 139 out of 187 countries around the world have ratified the treaty, including six out of the 10 Asean member states.

Convention 144 is also in line with Section 74 of the current constitution which states that the government must establish a labour relations platform for all sides, including state agencies.

The less-than-positive opinion held by employers of the current tripartite system chimes with those of labour unions and academic figures.

Lae Dilokvidhyarat, an economics lecturer at Chulalongkorn University, said the system has been plagued with problems, and ratification of C144 would provide a platform to make it more inclusive.

"Although the system is supposed to diminish labour conflicts, Thailand's tripartite committees have proven ineffective as labourers were not prioritised. Even worse, some members neglected their duties and instead worked to satisfy the needs of state authorities," Mr Lae said.

He said independence and inclusivity in tripartite committees are important for the economy and the welfare of Thai people -- both employers and employees.

Mr Lae believes the state has continued to manipulate labour policies despite the tripartite mechanism. Examples of this include a minimum wage which varies from province to province and decreasing state subsidies for the Social Security Fund for employees.

Bundit Thanatchaisetawut, a member of the labour-advocacy Arom Phongphangan Foundation, said the mechanism is merely a charade used by various groups to protect their own interests.

There are many "block votes" among members to advance their agendas. New labour unions are often created merely to obtain votes in these committees.

So rather than being a democratic system, the vote itself is merely a way to tip the balance of a committee in one direction or another, he said.

Should the state ratify C144, Mr Bandit and his foundation will request a more formal set of qualifications be enforced on committee members to prevent this from happening.

For instance, Mr Bandit suggested that members must have proven track records in labour unions.

Members, he said, must have worked for a labour union for around 30 years and must show a strong understanding of labour law.

Sawit Kaewvarn, secretary-general of the State Enterprises Workers' Relations Confederation (SERC), said the government must ratify C144.

The move would lead to new employment patterns which would highly benefit both employers and employees and help boost the national economy, according to Mr Sawit.

Aside from C144, Mr Sawit also urged the government to ratify the ILO's C87 and C98 objectives concerning collective bargaining rights.

Kowit Buraphathanin, a committee member of the Nikom Chandravithun Foundation (NCF), has also criticised the system. "Most of them are not qualified and were nominated only to support particular groups or vested interests," he said.

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