Workers at Thailand airport protest over poor labour conditions


Hundreds of airport workers staged a rally in Thailand’s capital city of Bangkok on Wednesday to protest the changes to their contracts that they claim strips them of basic labour rights and has led to forced resignations and arbitrary dismissals.

About 200 workers for AOT Aviation Security (AOT AVSEC), a joint venture set up last year between state-owned Airports of Thailand (AOT) and three security firms were involved in the protest, with unions saying conditions had worsened during the pandemic.

The protest action came six months after the Thomson Reuters Foundation revealed that 10 workers at Suvarnabhumi Airport were suing ASM Security Management (ASM), after they were pressured to quit then sign new contracts on worse terms with AOT AVSEC.

The move was part of a restructuring by AOT, which manages six airports across the Southeast Asian nation, and has been hit hard by coronavirus. The company has denied any wrongdoing.

But labour activists have voiced concerns that companies have capitalised on COVID-19 to roll back workers’ rights.

“COVID-19 has hit both workers and businesses hard, but businesses are also exploiting the pandemic to erode the rights of airport workers,” said Ampai Wivatthanasathapat, president of an airport workers’ union with about 1,700 members, including those from AOT AVSEC.

Pasakorn Aksornsuwan, AOT AVSEC’s human resources manager said he had provided an explanation to labour inspectors but declined to comment further.

ASM chief Karn Thongyai, declined to comment on the issue. According to the lawyer involved, the first hearing of the lawsuit against ASM is set for May after three unsuccessful mediation sessions.

The protesting workers said new contracts with AOT AVSEC, a venture between AOT, ASM, and two other security companies, left them on lower pay and without basic rights including toilet and lunch breaks and benefits such as a transport allowance.

One security guard at Suvarnabhumi Airport, who asked to remain anonymous, said she had to see two doctors last month due to urinary tract infections, adding that female staffs were often forced to use men’s toilets due to distance.

Other workers were made redundant after being told they did not have the right qualifications for jobs they held.

In September, Pasakorn said workers had been “transferred” from ASM with years of prior service reflected in their pay. He said AOT AVSEC was not involved in making any of them resign.

During the protest, workers handed over a letter stating their grievances to Labour Minister Suchart Chomklin, who publicly pledged to look into the issue.

The Department of Labour Protection and Welfare, which is part of the labour ministry, said it would hold discussions with AOT AVSEC over the “allegedly unfair employment conditions”.

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) said AOT AVSEC was denying workers their labour rights.

“When passengers hear of the health implications of how workers have been treated, it is hardly going to provide the confidence required to get aviation industry up and running post-pandemic,” Erin van der Maas of the ITF said. (Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation)