Friday, May 3, 2013

Whistle Blowers Demand Greater Safety on Freight and Passenger Trains

Unions Increase Pressure on Company to Install and Maintain Essential Equipment
Shipping News Feature

THAILAND – The State Railway of Thailand (SRT) is coming under increasing pressure from unions for its attitude to whistle blowers and labour leaders. The case dates back to 2009 when the company dismissed thirteen union leaders and branch officials who took part in an occupational health and safety initiative in October of that year to publicise the serious rail safety failings which led to two derailments and one fatal accident within just four days and centres around the absence of vital safety devices in the cabs of freight and passenger trains.

Anyone who visits Thailand regularly will have noted the casual attitude to death compared to western countries, the fatal accidents on the roads cost over 13,000 lives per year, the worst such rate of any country and seven times the UK rate despite roughly equivalent populations. The 2009 railway accident killed seven people and caused many others serious injury and the train driver was found to have had only one rest day in the previous month.

The key problem was that the ‘Dead Man’s Handle’ was unserviceable and further enquiries by the unions revealed that only 20% of the country’s locomotives are even fitted with such devices. The mainline train services are viewed as a joke by the general public whilst newer innovations like the Skytrain services, run by the Bangkok Mass Transit System (BTS), a public company financed by private funds, contrast sharply in their modernity.

Union action regarding the safety of drivers and passengers ended with 1200 members of the State Railway Workers’ Union of Thailand (SRUT) refusing to drive trains with faulty or missing Dead Man’s Handles which then resulted in the company suing the union for damages and, somewhat surprisingly according to union and legal sources, winning. With widespread international condemnation of the Court’s support for the State body the SRUT have conjoined with the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) the Thai State Enterprises Workers’ Relations Confederation (SERC), and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) to lodge a formal complaint against the Thai government to the International Labour Organization (ILO).

The complaint to the ILO’s Committee on Freedom of Association alleges that the Kingdom of Thailand is in gross violation of the international norms on trade union rights set out in ILO conventions 87 and 98 and that this has been highlighted by its having allowed the State Railways of Thailand (SRT) to victimise trade union members for exposing serious safety breaches on the country’s rail network. ITF inland transport section secretary Mac Urata commented:

“The injustice is manifest – these trade unionists sacked, their union targeted for massive damages totalling millions of dollars, and all for exposing serious safety dangers. The SRT has been able to get away with its behaviour because of its closeness to government and the government’s continuing to allow legislation that stifles the rights of workers in public enterprises. These injustices are what we are asking the ILO to rule on.”

Full details of the campaign coordinated by the ITF to explain and give individuals an opportunity to complain about the case can be seen HERE.

Photo: The Bridge over the River Kwai