Podcast: Thai Fast Food Workers Fight for a Fair Share

Podcast: Thai Fast Food Workers Fight for a Fair Share

The Fight for $15 movement in the United States, in which workers seek a living wage and a union, is part of a global struggle by fast food workers often employed by the same multinational corporations that make massive profits even as their employees struggle to get by.

In Thailand, Apantree Charoensak, a former union leader who led the campaign to organize fast food workers at KFC, describes on this week’s Solidarity Center Podcast how workers overcame the company’s opposition to successfully form a union and win better wages and working conditions.

“The company knew that if the demands were successful, it would impact 70 percent of the workers which, back then, there were about 18,000 workers. So they pressured and threatened me a lot,” she tells podcast host and Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau. “They said they would get me out of the company, if I still tried to help other workers.”

Charoensak says the campaign drew lessons from the U.S. Fight for $15 campaign throughout the years-long effort to form a union.

“It took six years from [when] the union was first organized until we reached the threshold of 20 percent because in Thailand, the law requires that you have to reach over 20 percent of all the workforce before you can file for collective bargaining.”

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2,000 Thailand Fast Food Workers Win First Contract

2,000 Thailand Fast Food Workers Win First Contract

Thailand, KFC, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Solidarity Center

Apantree Charoensak, union president, was fired from her position at Yum! Thailand during contract negotiations. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell

Some 2,000 fast food workers and supervisors at one of Thailand’s largest KFC franchises recently won the first-ever collective bargaining agreement in the kingdom’s fast food industry, a pact that includes an early retirement program, 23 meals provided by the company per year and motorcycle maintenance funds for delivery workers.

The contact also includes the right to union representation in any dispute or grievance, and paid union leave.

The workers are among 2,400 members represented by the Cuisine and Service Workers’ Union, an IUF affiliate.

During negotiations last month, union President Apantree Charoensak, who has been leading the struggle for fast food workers across Thailand for nearly a decade, was fired from her position at Yum! Thailand, which operates some of the KFC franchises. (The new contract covers KFC franchises run by Restaurant Development Ltd., which operates 130 of the 586 KFC restaurants in Thailand.)

Women representing 50 organizations in Thailand issued a statement of solidarity with Charoensak and submitted it to management of Yum! Thailand in Bangkok. Charoensak, along with two co-workers, had been previously dismissed in 2011 following her efforts to organize a union and negotiate a contract with Yum! Thailand. She and her co-workers were reinstated after filing a complaint with the country’s Labor Relations Commission describing their dismissal as retaliation for union activity, an action prohibited under Thai law.

Charoensak, a manager at the corporation where she supervised up to a dozen restaurants, says she began union organizing to rectify what she saw as a large pay disparity between front-line workers and managers. Ultimately two unions formed, one covering front-line employees and one for supervisors. Over the years, she says management also tried to end her union activism by offering her large sums of money, which she refused, and isolated her at work, giving her little to do—time she filled by completing a master’s degree in political science and addressing union members’ concerns.

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