ITF tackles Thai Airways damages claim against workers

ITF acting general secretary Steve Cotton spoke up about a dispute between Thai Airways and the ITF-affiliated Thai Airways International Union (TGU) today after it emerged that the airline is seeking damages claims against union leadership.

The claim follows a dispute from early 2013, when Thai Airways announced that there would be no basic pay rise for workers. The TGU held a two-day peaceful protest on 18-19 January last year in response to this unilateral decision.

As a result of the protest, TGU and Thai Airways management co-signed a memorandum on 19 January 2013 – which the ITF welcomed as good news.

However, the ITF has recently learned that despite this show of goodwill, Thai Airways is in the process of taking four of the memorandum signatories to court for damages caused by the protest, and intends to sue for USD10 million. The ITF understands that this is in contravention of article three of the memorandum, which states that the airline will not take any disciplinary or legal action against employees who joined the protest.

In a letter to the prime minister of Thailand, Cotton outlined the likely impact of such apparent betrayal of negotiations in good faith, writing: ‘these sorts of practices are not conducive to developing good working relations, which are essential for all aviation companies’. He urged the employer to abandon its persecution of workers and to work to regain the harmony lost in the once productive relationship between management and worker representatives.
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ITF celebrates Fiji union win

Union leadership at Fiji’s National Union of Hospitality Catering and Tourism Industries (NUHCTI) celebrated as police charges against their ‘illegal strike’ were dropped on February 2.

The ITF-affiliated union’s president, Dan Urai, was one of six union leaders charged by the military dictatorship on January 9 – despite the fact that the union had entered negotiations with management following the brief industrial action a week before the arrests were made. Urai maintains that he doesn’t know why he and the other workers were arrested and that they have never been given a satisfactory explanation.

Following international protests, the Fijian director of public prosecutions dropped all charges against the workers.

The illegitimate Fijian military government has a reputation for anti-union behaviour, with reports of union leaders being intimidated and even assaulted at military barracks back in 2011. The ITF-affiliated Fiji Sugar & General Workers’ Union, Transport Workers’ Union and Fiji Public Service Association have all been on the receiving end of anti-union aggression.

In January 2013 the ITF joined the global outcry when the military regime introduced the Fiji Political Parties Decree – aimed at wiping out political opposition and forbidding trade unionists from even showing support for a political party. The timing of this decree, issued just days after the Fiji Trades Union Congress (FTUC) launched a new political party that would include trade unions, is not thought to be coincidental.

ITF president Paddy Crumlin hailed this latest victory: “Unions the world over have united and joined in protest at this flagrant abuse of workers’ rights, showing once again that my brothers’ and sisters’ struggle is my struggle and that workers will not be walked over. With its history of workers’ rights abuses, we’ll continue to keep an eye on the situation in Fiji – and we won’t hesitate to take every legitimate action to protect our fellow workers.”

Hong Kong port dispute latest

3 May 2013

In the latest news from Hong Kong the Union of Hong Kong Dockers (UHKD) reports that employees of Comcheung Limited joined the dockers’ strike yesterday. Comcheung, a contractor at Kwai Chung container terminals, immediately offered workers a wage increase and one-off cash bonus. This offer was rejected, with workers calling for a written agreement. Their union and the ITF-affiliated UHKD have called on the company to join the negotations with Hong Kong International Terminals (HIT), which is owned by global network terminal operator Hutchison Port Holdings.

Comcheung is reported to be actively recruiting striking crane operators who were laid off by HIT contractor Global Stevedoring, which announced its closure two weeks ago.

The UHKD also reports that some 530 workers are now on strike, including more than 80 per cent of the checkers and lashers in the terminals.  The union believes that HIT is hiring replacement workers and requesting that non-striking employees work consecutive shifts. The union has highlighted health and safety concerns following a reported increase in occupational injuries.

On the same day, the latest round of negotiations between the UHKD and contractor Everbest Port Services and HIT failed, with Everbest refusing to put a wage deal in writing.

Today, 3 May, the High Court will hear two injunction requests made by Cheung Kong Centre against the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions and the UHKD. The injunction seek to prevent the organisations’ leaders from entering and demonstrating outside its properties. Cheung Kong Centre is part owned by Hutchison Whampoa Limited.