Protests bill 'flouts worker rally rights'

Protests bill 'flouts worker rally rights'

A bill allowing state authorities to control public gatherings is so broad it could be exploited to stamp out legitimate worker protests, labour rights advocates say.

The measure, which is before the National Legislative Assembly (NLA), flouts a labour relations law that recognises workers' rights to hold gatherings in pursuit of better pay and conditions, or changes in state policy, they said.

Labour groups yesterday lodged a petition against the bill, which the NLA passed at its first reading last month.

Wilaiwan Sae-tia, president of the Thai Labour Solidarity Committee, said public gatherings are routinely used by labour groups to voice their grievances and seek changes in policy.

She said the bill is designed to govern political demonstrations, but it is written in a way that would affect other public gatherings.

It would be better to separate workers' gatherings from political demonstrations.

She said the bill is written in such broad terms that people's rights to hold peaceful assemblies could be curtailed.

The legislation gives overwhelming powers to state authorities who are also exempt from disciplinary, civil and criminal liabilities in the event of crackdowns, she said.

Demonstrators, on the other hand, are subject to criminal proceedings.

Ms Wilaiwan said other laws could be applied to control public gatherings. The interim charter itself does not address freedom of assembly and public gatherings by labour groups, which exposes workers to even greater risk that authorities will criminalise their protests without good reason.

She said if the NLA insists on keeping the bill  it should provide better protection for those taking part in public gatherings.

NLA member Somchai Sawaengkarn said yesterday he would forward the petition to NLA president Pornpetch Wichitcholchai.

He said the NLA would make sure people's rights to gather and their civil liberties are protected.

The bill to control public gatherings was proposed by the Royal Thai Police Office.

The NLA members voted 182-0 in favour of the bill, with four abstentions, paving the way for a 22-member sub-panel to deliberate it within 30 days.

The government says the bill will help maintain security and sets clear guidelines for public gatherings.

It would comply with international practices in regard to participants' political rights.

Under the bill, organisers of public gatherings must inform authorities at least 24 hours before the assemblies take place.

They also have to declare the purpose, date, time frame and place of their rallies.

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