Union calls for review of mass lay-offs

Union calls for review of mass lay-offs

Execs of Education Ministry textbook business faulted for subcontracting work

Suksapan staff hold placards demanding that management's lay-off scheme be scrapped. Nutthawat Wicheanbut
Suksapan staff hold placards demanding that management's lay-off scheme be scrapped. Nutthawat Wicheanbut

The labour union of the Education Ministry’s textbook publishing and sales business, known as Suksapan, is demanding a review of the mass layoffs announced this week, blaming mismanagement for the organisation’s financial problems.

The order to terminate 961 workers, or 93% of all Suksapan employees, cited enormous debt and a lack of liquidity. It was signed by Disakul Kasemsawas, secretary-general of the Office of Non-Formal and Informal Education.

Late last year, the organisation — which once "lost" 530,000 textbooks — laid off 227 employees.

In its statement opposing the latest staff cuts, which are set to take effect on Aug 1, the union pointed the finger at management for its decision to subcontract its work to private companies.

According to the union, Suksapan has certain fixed sources of income such as publishing school textbooks for the Institute for the Promotion of Teaching Science and Technology and the Office of Basic Education Commission, which meant it should not have been losing money.

"The problem is that it subcontracted the work to private companies and opened ways for graft," said the statement.

Outstanding debts of 6.7 billion baht were from loans sought by the organisation's executives since 2001 to hire firms to print textbooks. The borrowing reflects a lack of financial discipline leading to bad debts, according to the union.

"The union has submitted complaints to the Department of Special Investigation and the National Anti-Corruption Commission. Some people have been indicted in some of the cases but those responsible did not take any action,” the statement said.

"This is the main reason for the loss but the problems have not been raised and fixed.

"While the root cause of operating at a loss and debt have not been addressed, the authority decided to cut jobs.

"We think the business organisation's executives should first figure out the cause of financial problems and use governance in solving the issue," said the union.

The Education Ministry has long wrestled with corruption at its agencies including Suksapan, which also operates a network of stores selling textbooks, uniforms and school supplies.

In April 2016, ministry officials vowed to get to the bottom of a scandal involving the disappearance of 530,000 textbooks and the discovery of 500,000 school uniforms that had been sitting in a warehouse for 10 years.

A fact-finding panel in June of the same year recommended legal action against the executives responsible, but little has happened since then. 

Suksapan, known in English as the Office of the Welfare Promotion Commission for Teachers and Educational Personnel, will need 1.5 billion baht for severance payments to the laid-off employees. It intends to use its assets, including land, buildings and machines to pay back its debts.

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