Charoen Pokphand (CP), Thailand’s largest food manufacturer, agreed on Monday to reinstate more than 160 Burmese workers it had fired from a seafood-processing plant in Mahachai, Samut Sakhon Province, after workers staged a protest on Sunday.
The company, which employs some 2,000 legally registered Burmese workers, also agreed to stop using subcontractors to hire new employees, said labor activist U Toe of the Human Rights and Development Foundation, a Burmese migrant rights organization.
The workers say they are often exploited by the subcontractors, who act as intermediaries between the company and its Burmese workers.
U Toe was one of five workers’ representatives who met with CP managers on Monday. Kyaw Kyaw Lin, the labor attaché from the Burmese embassy in Bangkok, and officials from Thailand’s Department of Labor and Social Welfare also took part in the meeting.
The workers organized the protest after CP posted a notice on Saturday terminating the employment of around 160 people, including older workers and pregnant women, effective June 26.
Zaw Myo, one of the sacked employees, told The Irrawaddy that the workers approached the company’s managers about their dismissal, and were told that they had been let go because of their lack of Thai-language skills.
“They said only those who could not speak Thai well had been fired, but many of us can speak Thai,” said Zaw Myo, who has worked with CP for about six months.
The workers had also called on CP to pay workers for days when they couldn’t work because of a lack of seafood to process, but the company rejected that demand, said U Toe.
For the past four months, the shortage of raw materials has forced the company to reduce the work week of its employees to just four days, a situation it says it expects to continue until July.
The workers say that they should be compensated for those days off, noting that under Thai labor protection laws they are entitled to receive 75 percent of their regular pay.
At the meeting with the CP managers, Kyaw Kyaw Lin, the Burmese embassy’s labor attaché, urged the workers to speak to him next time they have a problem.
“U Kyaw Kyaw Lin told the workers to contact the embassy first before protesting or doing anything,” said U Toe, adding the embassy agreed to help workers negotiate with employers.
This is not the first time that Burmese workers have protested against CP. In January, workers decided to strike over what they saw as the unfair dismissal of employees. The company denied the charge, saying that only those who had broken company rules had been fired.