Established in 1988, Par Garment Company in Pathum Thani Province produces garments by order, its main products being export-only shirts and sportswear under the brand names of Nike, Adidas, London Fog, Britannia, Karet Francisca, Asics, Champion, Oldnavy, The Gap, Chicago, Fila, etc.
Its main export markets include Australia, Hong Kong, China, Japan, the United States, and Canada. The company's owner is an heir of Thailand's garment giant, and the company itself has a capital of 100 million baht.
During the years 1992-1995, the company had about 800 employees in its production section, 95% of whom were women. After 1995, the number of employees continuously reduced to only about 450. The main reason for such decrease was that the company created the situation which made the employees feel insecure, such as delayed wage payment, and claiming that it had received much less orders.
In reality, however, the company did not such problems, as it continued to expand its business by opening new factories in various provinces and by subcontracting.
The Par Garment Trade Union submitted its demand to rectify hiring condition to the company on 23 September 1997. Their requests included 6 issues:
1. Special reward for workers shall be paid according to their working terms.
2. Bonus payment should be paid annually and regularly.
3. Additional diligence supplement shall be paid up to 160 bath monthly.
4. Additional entitlement to annual leave.
5. Refundable insurance deposit shall be returned to any workers who have completed their 120-days working duration.
6. Office space shall be adequately provided for trade union operation.
On the same day the Par Garment executive responded to these inquiries. Ten retorts were given to cancel relatively all of the working welfare. Details are:
1. Bonus payment is revoked pending the executives' consideration and the company's margin.
2. Special incentive paid pending the daily output is canceled.
3. Annual leave entitlement shall comply with labour laws.
4. Diligence supplement shall be paid up to the minimum daily payment, and following the original condition.
5. Any willing workers, who intend to neglect and delay their work to result in damages and errors in production process and/or the company's assets shall be severely punished and eligible for necessary compensation.
6. If necessary, the company has the right to reduce working staff by paying necessary compensation as in compliance with the law, and is entitled to diminish working days without paying any labour wage.
7. Any leave- taking for the union's activities participation must comply with the laws.
8. Any workers who detain, confine or besiege shall be severely punished.
9. Transportation service is canceled.
10. This agreement document shall be in effect for 3 years.
In October 1997, some 500 workers demonstrated against unbearable injustices in their work place. Their union held negotiation with the employer. But the negotiations ended in deadlock, with the employer threatening to deprive the employees of all existing welfare.
Eventually the company's board ordered a total lockout, attributing it to the economic slump, the company's liquidity crunch, and its continuos business losses.
Throughout the prolonged lockout, from October 29,1997 to April 22,1998, the workers appealed for the company to be responsible for their plight of having no income as a result of the lockout.
In their fights after and before the lockout, the workers witnessed the employers disagreement with their right to assembly and some of their leaders received death threats. The employees knew that the claim of the economic problems was a pretext for the lockout.
Petitioning the Prime Minister
The lockout of more than five months ended when the workers highlighted their problems to the Prime Minister. On the occasion of this years International women's day, March 8, the women workers marched to seek direct governmental help. The Prime Minister ordered the Director- General of the department of labour protection and welfare to summon the company's representatives with full authority to make decisions, to enter into new talks with the workers.
Back to work
After the Premier's role, the union reached an agreement with the employer. Under the agreement, in force for one year, the workers were back to work on April 22,1998; are entitled to a raised level of diligence allowance from 240 baht to 300 baht a month, having the same working conditions as before; and are protected from being used, whether in a civil or criminal court, and from being punished according to the employer's working rules by the employer for their acts before and during the lockout.
Notably, the agreement to reinstate the workers were in exchange for the governments assurance that the government act as the guarantor in the company's bid to secure bank loan to ease its liquidity problem.
Despite the agreement and the resumption of work, life in the factory has become tense under the newly-employed executives and the foreman and supervisors. There were reorganisation of many workers responsibilities, resulting in workers doing unfamiliar jobs, and an installation of a closed -circuit video system. The number of company buses for the workers were reduced from eight to only three.
Discriminatory practices are evident between female and male workers and between workers and foreman and supervisors. Working rules have been adjusted to be more stringent. Food prices in the work place have been increased. Meetings of workers are called more frequently. The management have tried to dissuade the workers from becoming members of the union, saying that their unpleasant condition is the result of obeying the union.
As in the past, the big problems of late payments of pay persists. The delays, varying from a few days to even a week, cause hardship and anxiety to the workers, most of whom get the daily minimum wage of 162 baht.
Although the workload never decreases and the overtime work requirement is a very common thing, the employer always gives the same old reason that the company has been cash-starved because of the non-production during the lockout and the governments failure to help find bank loans for the company.
The postponement of pay date from May 22 to May 25,1998, which again resulted in the company's failure to make payments, prompted a number of the union's member to ask for an exact pay date from the employer. It turned out that the employer dismissed 30 of them, six unions committee members and the rest union members.
The employer accused them of walking out for two hours, which caused much damage worth a huge sum of money for the company; verbally persuading and threatening fellow workers into walking out; and behaving in hostility and harboring unfriendly attitudes towards the company. Since these were gross improper conducts, the employer laid them off without severance pay.
For the six union committee members, the employer has also taken action against them in the Central Labour Court, seeking a ruling that they be laid off. Pending the court decision, the six have to report for work every working day but are not allowed to enter the factory's compound. As for the other 24 people, the employer dismissed them without severance pay on the grounds that they have committed the same improper conduct.
The bitter experience of months of the lockout still vivid in their minds, the 30 women have filled complaints with the Central Labour Court and the Labour Relations Committee, hoping to receive justice and to return to their work to support their poor families
For workers still working at Par Garment, they live in constant fear of loosing their jobs. Many of them were told by the personnel officials to quit the union. They have to obey the management and supervisors. They face the perpetual problem of pay delays. They work under strain from the unusual presence of police and guards. They also witness the sinking state of the 30 workers.
Appeal from the workers
You could help the 30 workers by sending your message of protest to the Thai Government and the executives of Par Garment. Importantly, you can also send messages to consumers in your area and country refraining them from buying the clothing from Par Garment. You could also financially assist the 30 workers and support their struggle.
Please send the protest letter to:
Please send your solidarity support to:
President of Par Garment Trade Union
19 Housing development, Tambon Klongnung, Amphur Klongluang, Prathumthani Province 12120 Thailand.
Asian Women Workers Newsletter