Thai airport workers demand compensation for lost break time


Thai airport security workers are seeking compensation for being denied breaks to eat or use the bathroom as labour dispute cases in Thailand sees a jump during the pandemic, union leaders said.

About 200 airport security workers are demanding compensation of about US$60,000 from AOT Aviation Security (AOT AVSEC), a joint venture that includes the country’s state-run airports operator.

Security workers involved in the case said they had not been allowed to leave their posts to eat or sometimes even to use the bathroom since they started working for the company in May 2020.

They said the situation got worse last year when the company stopped hiring additional staff – with those left behind regularly reprimanded for stepping away to eat packed lunches, buy a snack or use the toilet.

Ampai Wivatthanasathapat, president of the airport workers’ union that plans to file the complaint at the Labour Ministry next week, said the case reflected a slide in working conditions in Thailand since the Covid-19 crisis struck in early 2020.

“There has been a massive increase in labour rights violations across the country, with many employers using Covid-19 as an excuse to lay off workers without severance pay,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Labour rights activists globally have voiced concerns about companies capitalising on the pandemic as an opportunity to cut costs by coercing workers to accept worse terms and conditions.

AOT AVSEC’s human resources manager Pasakorn Aksornsuwan said security guards have now been given lunch breaks, bringing them in line with other airport workers, following discussions with the Labour Ministry last month.

“Only (workers) in some spots might not have had a full hour lunch break. It’s not something that most faced,” he said.

The new complaint is the latest dispute involving Thai airport staff and comes amid a crackdown on labour unions in recent years, with leaders facing threats and pressure such as being fired for engaging in collective bargaining or strikes.

The president of the state railway union and 12 other union leaders were sentenced to three years in prison a year ago for their role in organising a railway safety campaign.

Last month, more than 900 airport workers sued ASM Security Management, a company hired by state-run Airports of Thailand (AOT), saying they were tricked into accepting worse terms with the threat of losing their jobs.

In a separate case last year, 10 Suvarnabhumi airport workers filed suit against ASM on similar grounds, with the first court hearing to decide the dispute due in November.

Karn Thongyai, the head of ASM, said the workers had been “transferred” from ASM with years of prior service reflected in their pay, with higher salaries.

Even vital workers have lost basic rights as a result of the pandemic and the simultaneous crackdown on trade unions, according to the Solidarity Center, a U.S.-based labour rights advocacy group.

“It’s hard to imagine a more essential worker than airport security officers in a country that relies predominantly on tourism, and yet what the current exercise of rights has exposed is the systematic undermining of basic rights,” said the group’s country director, David Welsh.

“This includes most egregiously things like toilet and lunch breaks.” (Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation)