EPIC -- Poultry Farm bring charges against migrant workers and HRDs after publication of 20-Hour Working Time

 

Thammakaset Co., Ltd., an owner of a poultry farm in Lopburi Province and a supplier of Betagros, one of the major company in Thai food industry. This poultry farm employed migrant workers from Myanmar to look after the chickens -- feeding, checking the light, controlling the temperature especially when the chicks were not strong enough. During 2016, the working conditions in the poultry farm was revealed to the public when the 14 Myanmese workers claimed their basic rights and accused the company on the violation of labor rights. 

 

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In June 2016, there were 14 migrant workers from Myanmar, worked with its legally work permits. One of them was a maid while other 13 persons, both men, and women, in charge of taking care of chickens. Some of them can speak Thai as worked on the farm for many years while most of them cannot. All 14 persons mutually consulted and agreed that all of them had forced to work too hard and received unfair wages. Mr. Tun Tun Win contacted Migrant Workers Rights Network or MWRN which is an NGO helping the migrant workers located in Samut Sakhon Province via Facebook for help. MWRN, therefore, contacted the labour protection office to have an investigation.
 
The labour inspector, Lopburi Labour Protection Office, went to the farm to investigate and attempted to have a negotiation between the employer and the workers. The employers offered compensation to the workers in the amount of THB 30,000 each which the workers did not agree and the dispute was not settled there. The MWRN, therefore, helped bring all 14 workers out of the farm. The labor inspector also examined the facts about working condition and issued an order on August 2016, allowing the chicken farm to pay the compensation to workers falling by THB 60,000-150,000, depending on the working period. However, the workers felt that the compensation is still inconsistent with what they should receive, therefore, they brought the case to the Labor Court to claim for the compensation of THB 1,000,000-4,500,000 per person.
 
During the labor court proceedings, the 14 workers started a new life in Samut Sakhon. Tun Tun Win said that he had a new job in a canned fish factory and received a wage of THB 300+ as legally as prescribed by law and have a better quality of life. While MWRN is working with many other organizations, bringing the story of all 14 workers to be released. Later, Betagro terminated the contract and denied to purchase the product from Thammakaset Company. The company was, therefore, suffered the damages and had to stop the chicken farm business.
 

 

There are many dispute issues that the 14 workers accused the employer and the employer refused that they are not true. For example: 
 
1. The workers claimed that the employer paid only THB 220-230 wages per day, which is less than the law requires. The slip that comes with the money of each month is in Thai language which the workers did not understand. Also, the workers have not received wages from working overtime and working on holidays. The employer countered that, before starting to work, it was agreed that the wages must be deducted as an accommodation cost in the amount of THB 1,600 per month, electricity costs of THB 1,400 per month, water supply at THB 1,200, and drinking water at THB 80. The actual amount was paid by the remaining amount from the aforementioned costs.
 
2. The workers claimed that during the period that the chickens were available in the farm, the workers had to work hard all day and night since 7 am - 5 pm and worked overtime from 7 pm to 5 am in the morning totally 20 hours per day without any weekly holidays or any special annual holidays. The workers had to feed the chickens, give medication, turn on-turn off the light, dispose of the dead chicken, watch out for thieves and have to punch in and punch out the working time. The employer defended that the workers were not forced to work that hard. The reason that the workers go to work in the farm during the night is that they want the chickens to gain the extra weight in order to receive extra payment. In addition, during the break of the farm when there is no chicken for around 25 -28 days, the workers were able to take a rest as there was no work to do.
 
3. The workers claimed that the employer confined them by seizing the passport of the workers and the workers were not allowed to leave the farm. If the workers want to buy something in the market, there was always be the Thai person taking them to and taking them back. The employer defended that the passport was not seized, the reason for the collection was for the extension of the work permits and passports were returned to each worker already. The workers were able to go shopping at the market or grocery store, the employer only facilitates the delivery car to the holiday market. Also, the workers had also left the farm to go home in Myanmar as well as travel during the holidays.
 
And several other issues. 


 

Subsequently, on 17 March 2017, the Labor Court ruled that the employer, Thammakaset Company, had to pay the compensation to all 14 workers at the same rate that the labor inspector had previously ordered in the amount of around THB 60,000-150,000, a little more from the original order. In total, the employers have to pay compensation for 14 people, about THB 1,700,000. 
 
One part of the judgment is that, the Labor Court required the Thammakaset Company to pay overtime back for the fact that the workers have to go to work on the farm at night, 2-4 hours per day, depending on the age of the chicken. The Court did not consider the overtime wages as 10 hours per day as requested by the workers as the Court believed that working on the farm during the night was a special agreement that the workers chose to go to sleep on the farm. If there is an abnormality with the chicken, they will be able to help immediately. This was not considered as working all the time. The Court also considered that the nature of the farm is not strong enough to detain the workers and prohibit to go outside. The Court, therefore, did not set damages for violation of freedom of movement. Also, due to the fact that the period of prescription for the compensation is 2 years, the court may not order that the workers who have previously worked before such period are entitled to receive compensation for the incomplete wages paid during the work before June 2014.
 
Not only the disputes on employment issues and compensation, after 14 workers with help from MWRN and human rights organizations disseminate the issue of violation of labor rights to the public. Thammakaset Company, whith Chanchai Permpol a proxy in the proceedings, considered that the campaign that accuses that the farm is a false allegation causing the company to lose its reputation. The Company, therefore, continue to prosecute those involved in this case for more than two years with the details as follows:
 
 
1. Criminal case against, Andy Hall, for 20 posts on Facebook and Twitter
 
Andy Hall, a British researcher who works in Thailand for labor rights of migrant workers from Myanmar and also worked with MWRN for the labor protection campaign. Andy, is one who followed the case of workers at this chicken farm and campaign for their rights to the public via his Facebook and Twitter both in English and Thai.
 
On November 4, 2016, Thammakaset filed a criminal complaint to Bangkok South Criminal Court against Andy Hall for alleged defamation and libel according to Article 326 and 328 of the Criminal Code and another offence under Article 14(1) of the Computer Crimes Act, in connection with his publication on Facebook and Twitter at least 20 times during June 30, 2016 to October 1, 2016. Mostly the posts are news reports and articles related to the labor disputes in may issues such as; alleged that the employment was deemed as ‘slave trade’ which Thannakaset considered as false or alleged that the workers feel like they were detained in the farm.
 
In this case, the lawyer that the plaintiff hired wrote a narrative of complaints more than 100 pages and has many factual issues must be examined in order to prove various stories that Andy Hall posted. Andy saw that the case will take years and will create a too much burden for those involved in terms of the cost of the organization and the potential impact on workers. He, therefore, returned to England and did not present to the court resulting in the case to be hung, and unable to move forward to prove the truth.
 
 
2. Criminal case against 14 former workers for reporting to NHRCT
 
After the workers were helped to get out from the farm, MWRN recommended and brought all 14 workers to submit a complaint to the National Human Rights Commission to investigate labor rights violations. After listening to all parties, the Subcommittee on Economic, Social and Cultural had a meeting and issued resolution on August 1, 2016, that in this case "there is a violation of human rights in the case of employers paying wages and the employment agreement is not conform with legal standard because the employers do not understand the essence of the law. However, the action was not considered as human trafficking and forced labor because there was no oppressive or forced condition of the employment and the employee comes to work lawfully."
 
On October 6, 2016, Thammakaset filed a complaint to the Don Mueang Kwaeng [Sub- District] Court in Bangkok against 14 migrant workers from Myanmar for allegedly “providing false information to an official” after the workers submitted a complaint about alleged labour rights violations to the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRCT). The Court accepted the case and conducted many proceedings for this case which all 14 workers and MWRN had to be absent from work to come to participate every court schedule. On July 11, 2018, the court dismissed the case with reason that the workers filed the complaints of labour violations while working at Thammakaset farm to the NHRCT in good faith to defend their own rights. It cannot be admitted that the information provided by the workers were fals. Thammakaset has appealed the court’s verdict and the higher court did not accpeted the case. 
 
 

 

3. Theft case for taking the employees’ time cards as evidence to file complaint
 
Thammakaset filed a criminal complaint against Ms. Ye Ye and Mr. Soe Yong, two of the 14 migrant workers including Ms. Suthasinee Kaewleklai, a labour rights activist to the Lopburi Provincial Court, for alleged “co-commission of theft by night” and “taking away a person’s document, likely to cause damage to that person” according to Article 188, 334, 335, 352 of the Criminal Code. The charges stemmed from the fact that they had taken and presented their employee time cards, which are considered as the property of the company, to government labour inspectors. Police issued a non-prosecution order then the company decided to file the case to the court by itself.
 
On September 3, 2018, during the preliminary hearing, the Court found that the time cards were taken in order to be presented to the labour inspector of Lopburi Province without dishonest intention. The Court also found the defendants did not seek for any illegal benefits for itself or others, and that the company already had a duty to present such a document to the labour inspector, therefore the charge is not considered as theft or receiving stolen property.  
 
 
4. Criminal Case against Nan Win for a press conference at FCCT
 
On October 8, 2018, Thammakaset filed a criminal complaint with the Criminal Court in Bangkok, for alleged “defamation by publication” against Mr. nan Win, one of the 14 migrant workers from Myanmar, based on:
 
1) On October 6, 2017, Nan Win participated in the Fortify Rights Seminar at FCCT. Nan Win, represented the workers on stage sharing the employment condition which he had to work 20 hours per day and was threatened by the employers to not revealing otherwise he must be jailed for 7 years. Nan Win had also shared a live video clip of the press conference on his Facebook account.
 
2) On October 2017, Nan win had given the interviews to Fortify Rights Organisation with the 107 seconds long video clip stated that “In the morning, the work started at 7.00 am, we had a lunch break at noon and we had another short break from 5.00 pm to 7.00 pm. We had to start working again until 5.00 a.m. and our passports and money were seized.
 
In the complaint, the Thammakaset Company insisted that these allegations are not true. By referring to the order of the National Human Rights Commission and the Labor Court to prove that the workers did not work all the time from 07.00 am to 17.00 pm and did not continue working at 7 pm to 5 am without rest. In this case, the Criminal Court scheduled for examination of witnesses on 18-21 February 2020.
 
 
 
5. Criminal and civil cases against Sutharee, human rights specialist for posting a short film on twitter
 
On October 12, 2018, Thammakaset filed a criminal defamation complaint with the Criminal Court in Bangkok, for alleged “defamation by publication” according to Article 326 and 328, against Ms. Sutharee Wannasiri, a former Thailand Human Rights Specialist at Fortify Rights. The complaint relates to three posts Ms. Sutharee made on Twitter about a 107 seconds - campaign video produced by Fortify Rights to campaign for the cancellation of legal proceedings against 14 workers based on defamation. The video includes the interview of 3 workers sharing its working condition and the allegations. 
 
This video is the same video which Nan Win gave the interview and was accused a few days before. After the interview of Nan Win, there was a narration stated that ‘They reported labor rights abuses to that authorities' which the plaintiff claimed untrue as the company had not abused the workers.
 
Later on October 26, 2018, the lawyer of Thammakaset filed a separate civil defamation complaint with the Civil Court in Bangkok against Ms. Sutharee. The complaint is related to three posts Ms. Sutharee made on Twitter about the campaign video produced by Fortify Rights, arguing that Ms. Sutharee’s posts on Twitter damaged the company’s reputation. The company claimed that it was damaged from the lack of business income in the amount of THB 90 million per year and demanded five million THB (US$161,000) in compensation for damage to the company’s reputation from Sutharee including requested to delete the post.
The Criminal Court also decided to combine Ms. Sutharee Wannasiri’s case with Mr. Nan Win’s case.
 
 
 
6. Criminal Case against an academic from Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies, Mahidol University
 
On May 1, 2019, Thammakaset filed a criminal defamation complaint to the Criminal Court in Bangkok, for alleged “defamation by publication” according to Article 326 and 328, against Ms. Ngamsuk Rattanasathien, an academic from Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies, Mahidol University. The complaint relates to the fact that Ngamsuk shared the statement of Fortify Right requesting the company to cease the legal proceedings to the workers including the link to the 107 seconds video, being the problem before, via the Facebook of the Institution. 
 
 
 
From the trial observations and analysing the argument of Thammakaset that appeared in the writing of the cases documents and the argument in the courtroom, it was found that the employer was focused on the issue that the workers told the third party that they were confiscated passports and were detained as well as forced to work all day and night. In particular, if the terms used to define the condition of employment as "abuse" or "human trafficking" or "use of slave labor", Thammakaset will take those messages as a base for prosecution.
 
Chanchai Permpol, a proxy of Thammakaset, denied to give an interview to iLaw saying that he gave interviews many times and found most media do not report to benefit him. Once he gave an interview to the AFP news agency that he was forced to take these lawsuits to protect the reputation of the company from the false allegation. He refused the fact of the forcing of 20 hours work to the workers and the confiscation of the passports.
 
He also said that, from now on, more lawsuits will be seen against those who call themselves as a human rights defenders in Thailand, which are more violators to the rights in his opinion. 
 
Fortify Rights issued a statement to the Thai authorities that, in addition to the dismissal of the new case of the Thammakaset, the Thai government should also cancel the criminal offense for defamation as well as suggesting that the threat of justice in the form of a lawsuit or the SLAPP (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation) is incurred generally in Thailand. Furthermore, many human rights organizations have continued to issue several statements in order to call  Thammakaset to withdraw all the case against the workers who have revealed stories of labor rights violations in this epic.
 
 

 

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