September 12, 2019 / 12:15 PM / 6 days ago

Thailand orders garment factories to compensate workers after illegal wages expose

BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Garment factories in Thailand that supply to global brands such as coffee giant Starbucks and sports gear maker Bauer Hockey were raided by police on Thursday and ordered to compensate hundreds of workers after an expose found illegal underpayments.

A Thomson Reuters Foundation investigation published last week found that at least 26 migrant workers from neighboring Myanmar were paid less than the daily minimum wage of 310 Thai baht ($10.15) in the western region of Mae Sot.

The raids, conducted by Thailand’s anti-trafficking task force, government officials and police, targeted two factories. Police Lieutenant General Jaruvat Vaisaya said the owners of both factories were ordered to pay back wages owed to workers.

“The owners of both factories confessed that they paid workers less than the minimum wage,” Vaisaya told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Mae Sot following the raids.

Cortina Eiger, which runs one factory that produces apparel for Bauer Hockey and employs about 600 workers, had not given workers the minimum wage, holiday pay or sick leave, he said.

The Cortina Eiger factory owners were ordered to pay an estimated 45 million baht to 600 workers within 30 days or face prosecution. Under labor laws, failing to pay the minimum wage is punishable by up to 6 months in jail and a 100,000 baht fine.

Authorities were in the process of calculating how much would be paid to 11 workers found at a factory run by Kalayanee Ruengrit, which produces aprons for Starbucks, the police said.

“Both factories have promised they would not lay off any of the workers,” said Vaisaya, adding that any company that fired its workers “without a reason” would face hefty fines.

The two factories were not immediately available to comment.

Bauer Hockey and Starbucks last week said they were investigating but were not available to comment on their probes.

Siwanat Petchsringoen, manager of the Federation of Thai Industries in Mae Sot, that has 130 members in the region, said Cortina Eiger had vowed to pay the minimum wage to its workers.

The Human Rights and Development Foundation, which provides free legal aid to migrant workers and victims of human trafficking, questioned whether the raids would offer a long-term solution to the issue of labor exploitation in Mae Sot.

“It might cause factories to have more standards, but it also might cause them to look for other ways [to exploit workers],” said the charity’s chairman Somchai Homlaor.

The raids - which were led by officials and cops from Bangkok - could also hurt the relationship between civil society groups and state representatives in Mae Sot, Homlaor added.

Somboon Trisilanun, deputy director-general at the department of labor protection and welfare, said the government was planning to send a taskforce to inspect a further four factories in Mae Sot, but did not provide any time frame.

($1 = 30.4400 baht)

Reporting by Nanchanok Wongsamuth @nanchanokw; Editing by Michael Taylor and Kieran Guilbert. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org

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