Fourteen Myanmar migrant workers were indicted and arrested on criminal defamation and false information charges brought by the owners of a poultry farm in Don Muang Magistrate’s Court in Bangkok yesterday, less than three weeks after Thailand’s Supreme Court dismissed the final appeal of the poultry farm that forced them to pay 1.7 million Thai baht (US$52,000) in past wages to the same 14 workers who alleged brutal and abusive work conditions.
The workers, who pleaded not guilty yesterday, have been embroiled in a landmark case in which the workers alleged forced labour and other rights violations at Thammakaset 2 poultry farm in Central Thailand.
Thammakaset Company Ltd. filed criminal prosecutions against the 14 workers in October 2016, alleging offences of criminal defamation and also giving false information to public officials in relation to the worker’s complaint in July 2016 to the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRCT). This complaint concerned alleged abuse at the farm and the worker’s failure to receive adequate remedy. If found guilty of these two offenses, the workers could be imprisoned for up to one-and-a-half years and/or fined up to 21, 000 Thai
In accordance with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP on BHR), two Nordic poultry importers and a Thai poultry exporter will cover bail costs for the 14 workers up to €15,000 (588, 000 Thai Baht). Following the arrest, indictment and pleas of not guilty at yesterday’s court hearing, this contribution should ensure the workers are immediately released temporarily from detention on bail pending a full criminal trial, with potential additional conditions on freedom of movement overseas imposed by the Court. The full trial of the workers is expected to commence next month, according to Andy Hall, a migrant worker rights specialist.
On 14th September, Thailand’s Supreme Court dismissed Thammakaset’s second and final appeal requesting overturning of a 1st August 2016 compensation order by Lopburi Department of Labour Protection and Welfare (DLPW) requiring 1.7 million Thai baht (US$52, 000) in past wages be paid by the farm to the 14 workers concerning their alleged abuse. The workers will receive this compensation in the coming days.
The worker’s own litigation filed in September 2016, claiming 44 million baht (US$1.25m) in damages and compensation for abuses suffered, remains pending a final ruling of the Supreme Court, expected later this year. Thammakaset 2 farm was previously contracted to supply poultry for export by Betagro Group, a major food processing company, and for this reason the worker’s compensation claim was filed against both Thammakaset Farm, Betagro as well as Lopburi DLPW officials.
The 14 workers contend the 2016 DLPW order doesn’t award them adequate compensation for up to 5 years of abusive work conditions at Thammakaset.
The workers alleged working days up to 20 hours and forced overtime including sleeping in chicken rearing areas overnight. Further, the workers alleged unlawful deduction of salaries, threats of further deductions, unlawful confiscation of identity documents and limited freedom of movement.
Two of the workers were charged with multiple counts of theft from an employer, carrying up to seven years imprisonment if found guilty, following a police complaint filed by Thammakaset in June 2016. The complaint alleged time cards were removed from the employer’s possession and given to DLPW officials as evidence of rights violations and long working hours. The case was recommended for prosecution by Lopburi Province police but was dropped following an order not to prosecute by the province’s Public Prosecutor’s Office. Thammakset however recently revived the case by filing new private theft prosecutions against the two workers at Lopburi Court, thereby side stepping public prosecution officials, Mr. Hall said. In November 2016, Thammakaset filed criminal defamation and computer crimes litigation against Mr. Hall, the former Migrant Worker Rights Network international affairs advisor, at Bangkok South Criminal Court concerning his social media campaigning on the case. Hall left Thailand days after the prosecution, citing inability to work amidst increasing judicial harassment.
“The imminent arrest of the 14 workers in this case has attracted considerable international concern including a statement by the United Nations (UN) Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and a joint open letter to the Thai Prime Minister by 87 businesses, civil society organisations, trade unions and members of the European Parliament,” said Andy Hall.
On two separate occasions, five UN Special Rapporteurs on Human Rights and the UN Working Group on Human Rights and Transnational Corporations have officially sent letters of allegation to the Thai Government given the human rights implications of the case”, Mr. Hall said yesterday..
The Thammakset case continues at a time when Thailand’s migrant worker management and protection policies as well as human trafficking record are under increased global scrutiny. Thailand is the world’s 4th largest poultry exporter supplying chicken, often for use in processed or ready-made meals, mostly to European Union and Japanese markets. Thailand’s poultry export industry has come under increasing scrutiny for its poor labour conditions since 2015 research reports published by watchdog groups Finnwatch and Swedwatch.