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Toothless labour union of little help for laid-off media staff

Toothless labour union of little help for laid-off media staff

SUNDAY, May 12, 2019

A weak trade union is responsible for the low bargaining power of employees of digital TV operators in compensation negotiations, according to some journalists and academics.

One labour academic suggested that the two sides hold an informal meeting to decide on a fair compensation for those who may be laid off. Six digital TV operators last week gave up their seven operating licences to the National Broadcasting and Telecommunication Commissions (NBTC) in exchange for financial compensation.
“Since our establishment, we have never represented employees in news media companies to negotiate with their employers when labour disputes, such as job lay-offs, arise,” said Sumeth Somkanae, secretary-general of the National Union of Journalists Thailand, a trade union for employees in the news media industry.
The Union usually just issues a statement calling on employers to give fair treatment to those affected by the business restructuring and the Union also gives advice on finding lawyers to them, he said.
“The Union faces a legal hassle, therefore it cannot act as employees’ representatives for negotiations with employers,” he lamented. According to law, 20 per cent of the employees of any news media company must be members of the National Union of Journalists Thailand, only then can the Union represent them in negotiations with their employers.
“But the fact is that we have very few members, which falls far short of the minimum requirement,” said Sumeth. Therefore, a trade union in any media company has to help itself, or individual employees can go to the Labour Court. 
The Union and several media associations will meet on Monday to discuss the impact on employees and find solutions on how to support them. The number of workers affected by the return of licences is estimated to be 1,500 to 2,000.
Lae Dilokvidhyarat, a labour economist, suggested that the National Union of Journalists hold informal talks on compensation with TV employers who would lay off employees. Its role as a mediator could lessen confrontation between employees and employers, he said.
Lae believes that compensation according to the labour law is a minimum protection, but employees deserve a higher amount of compensation. For example, should the law stipulate three months’ salary as compensation to some employees, they should receive six months’, he said.
He pointed out overall weakness of trade unions in Thailand, partly because the Thai government has not yet ratified two key conventions that will promote the freedom to organise and increase the bargaining power of workers.
The first one is CO87 – Freedom of Association and Protection of Right to Organise Convention, 1948 (No 87) – which allows workers to organise without a permission from authorities. The other one is Co98 – Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949 (No 98), which enhances the bargaining power of workers.
The government is partly worried about migrant labourers taking advantage of the two conventions, so it does not ratify the two conventions, he pointed out.
Lae also called on the Labour Ministry to lend a hand to facilitate workers in the news media business and employers to settle their dispute on compensation.
Mana Treelayapewat, a former dean of the School of Communication Arts at the University of Thai Chamber of Commerce, expressed his disappointment with the NBTC’s role.
The NBTC has promised to compensate digital TV employers but it does not take into account support for employees who would be affected, he said. The NBTC should have made it clear that employers should give their employees compensation exceeding the provisions of the labour law. Since the NBTC did not take such action, it may now play a mediation role by directly talking to those employers, he suggested.
The Association of Digital TV Broadcasting should also play a supporting role, he said. Media associations should gather the names and skills of journalists and other affected workers and make the information available to new potential employers.
Media associations should re-train journalists on digital skills. Employees should also increase theirs skills in the digital platform, as viewers may migrate from the TV platform, Mana added.
Watcharathit Katsri, a freelance news anchor, who is affected by the return of the TV licence by his employer, said that he had to find a new job. Digital TV operators have hired some staff on freelance basis in order to cut labour cost.
“There is no labour protection, I am constantly looking for job opportunities,” he said. “There is also a fierce competition in the freelance market,” he revealed. He, however, is hopeful as he had worked as a freelancer for a year. “I could work for several companies as the same time and I could negotiate my earnings,” he said.
Yongyuth Chalamwong, a labour economist at Thailand Development Research Institute, also worried about fair compensation for workers affected by digital TV channels returning their licences. He, however, estimated that only 10 per cent of an estimated 2,000 workers in the six TV operators, might be affected. TV operators may maintain the majority of workers by assigning them new jobs, many workers such as car drivers would find new jobs in the logistics industry while some others will need re-training, he added.