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Bkk Post-Angry reaction to ban on u

Subject: Bkk Post-Angry reaction to ban on union gathering

Bkk Post May 21, 1999.
Angry reaction to ban on union gathering
U-turn linked to the Burma factor

Penchan Charoensuthipan

Labour unions have lambasted the government for suddenly withdrawing
permission for the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU)
to hold a conference in Thailand, for fear the agenda might offend Burma.

Pratueng Saengsang, chairman of the Thai Trade Union Congress, said he was
appalled by the decision.

It defied democracy, violated basic rights and freedom of expression.

He said the government gave the meeting the go-ahead through the Foreign
Ministry in January, but permission was suddenly denied on May 10.

The ICFTU was a high-profile international organisation with considerable
influence on labour policy-making in the region.

The government's reaction reflected its backward and narrow thinking on
human rights and labour issues. This attitude had obvious repercussions on
the nomination of Deputy Prime Minister Supachai Panitchapakdi to head the
World Trade Organisation.

The meeting would have discussed a broad range of topics on labour abuse and
regional cooperation to tackle the problem. The Committee for Considering
the Operations of Foreign Non-Governmental Organisations informed the ICFTU
in writing on May 10 that the proposed conference "had the aim of developing
a plan of action by the international trade union movement that would assist
in the struggle for the restoration of democracy in Burma".

"While this issue might be appropriately discussed within the international
trade union movement, the committee is of the view that the holding of this
conference in Thailand would result in negative effects on the good
relations between Thailand and its neighbour."For this reason, the committee
felt it was "unable to agree to the ICFTU's request" to meet as scheduled.
The committee operates under the Labour and Social Welfare Ministry.

A committee source said the objection was raised out of concern the meeting
would touch on diplomatically sensitive topics.

Mr Pratueng said that as member of the ICFTU, his organisation would push to
reschedule the meeting, despite its cancellation, and would appeal to Labour
Minister Sompong Amornvivat to review the committee's decision.

If all efforts fail, the TTUC would join NGOs in Thailand in sponsoring a
forum to discuss the government's abrupt U-turn, "which had done more harm
than good for Thailand's image."