Jun 18th, 2019

Giving Our Workers A Voice through strengthening Worker Welfare Committee

At Thai Union, providing safe, legal and freely-chosen employment across all our operations is critically important. Not only does this ensure that our workers are protected, but it also helps us deliver against the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal to provide decent work and economic growth for communities and individuals around the world. Thai Union is a member of the UN Global Compact (UNGC) and has worked to implement the commitments in its Ten Principles since 2013. As part of the commitments, we support the freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining.

Worker welfare committees at our facilities in Thailand are a key component of that commitment, with the voice of the workers an important pillar in our human rights due diligence framework. The committees provide an alternative channel for the company management to establish social dialogue with workers in Thailand where migrant workers’ trade union rights are restricted by law. Under Thailand’s Labor Protection Act, companies with 50 or more workers are required to establish a worker welfare committee, which must comprise at least five worker representatives who are elected by their colleagues. The committees, which must meet at least once per quarter, have the authority to consult with employers on worker welfare, offer advice to the employer on welfare, inspect, control and supervise welfare arrangements, and put forward guidelines on welfare arrangements. There is no legal restriction on nationalities of workers who are eligible to take part in the committee.

Representatives from the Migrant Workers Rights Network and Thai Union Group explain about the Worker Welfare Committee election at TUF in 2018.

In 2016, we conducted social dialogue based audits in the relevant languages of the workers, primarily Burmese and Cambodian, for our Thailand-based facilities, in collaboration with the Migrant Workers Rights Network (MWRN). This process allowed for workers to actively participate in the social audit process, express their concerns or offer suggestions for improvement as well as highlight good progress. MWRN staff were given full access to Thai Union’s factories and staff, as well as to records, to enable them to conduct a full assessment in five of our key facilities in Samut Sakhon and Songkla. One of the assessment findings indicated the need for stronger and effective mechanisms for social dialogue between employers and workers, especially migrant workers. To address this concern, Thai Union began to work with MWRN to strengthen the worker welfare committees. In April 2016, Thai Union organized democratic welfare committee elections at TUF, one of the main facilities under Thai Union Group PCL, thanks to support from MWRN. Interventions included educating and supporting candidates on how to campaign and reach out to voters and training those who were elected on their roles and responsibilities. At the election, 60 workers stood as candidates, including 46 migrant workers. The committee was established in April 2016 with 19 members – 11 migrant workers and eight Thai nationals.

Training of successfully elected Worker Welfare Committee members from TUF, 2016

The democratically elected welfare committee helped lay the groundwork for workers to have their voices heard, providing Thai Union with greater awareness of issues in the factories as they arose. Furthermore, input from the worker welfare committees helps Thai Union to identify any risks or violations at our factories, allows us to identify and address any other issues quickly and allows us to improve their welfare.

Since 2016, we have continued to collaborate with MWRN to replicate our work on welfare committees across all of Thai Union’s facilities beyond TUF. In addition, in 2017 we created and began to implement internal guidelines on organizing welfare committee elections, effective for all our Thailand-based facilities. These guidelines prescribe standards for:

Representatives from Thai Union discuss the process for the Worker Welfare Committee election during a visit to the Okeanos Food plant in 2018

Beyond the worker welfare committees, Thai Union is committed to providing workers with a voice through other means. The provision of effective and accessible grievance mechanisms is required in our Business Ethics and Labor Code of Conduct (CoC) applicable to all our operations and suppliers. Across our facilities, workers can also use Human Resources drop in clinics, telephone hotlines and suggestion boxes to share their concerns. Further explanation of various worker voice mechanisms is provided in our 2017 UK Modern Slavery Act Transparency Statement. Thai Union has also taken other steps to support a stronger worker voice at an industry level through advocacy such as announcing our public support for the establishment of the International Transport Workers’ Federation Fishers’ Rights Network, and also the Thai government’s ratification of International Labour Organization Convention 87 on Freedom of Association and Convention 98 on Collective Bargaining.

“At Thai Union we understand how important it is for workers at our factories to have a strong voice so they can confidently raise any concerns or welfare issues with management, and the company can then address them effectively,” said Prad Kerdpairoj, Human Rights Manager at Thai Union.