200+ Thai Airport Workers Stage Employment Protest In Bangkok

Airport security workers staged street protests in Bangkok on Wednesday over what they say are new employment contracts with scaled back labor rights. AOT Aviation Security, a joint venture between private security firms and the state-owned Airports of Thailand, is accused of cutting airport workers’ pay and basic employee rights.

Thai Lion Air 737-800
Airport works staged a street protest in Bangkok yesterday over reduced pay and conditions. Photo: Getty Images

New contracts allegedly cut airport workers’ pay and conditions

According to a Thomson Reuters Foundation report, airport workers were last year presented with new employment contracts that not only reduced their take-home pay and allowances but cut out meal and toilet breaks. There are also allegations of ad hoc sackings and forced resignations.

“Businesses are also exploiting the pandemic to erode the rights of airport workers,” a Thai union official told Reuters.

The report says at least 200 people protested in Bangkok yesterday in response to the changes in their pay and employment conditions.

Disquiet over the new labor contracts dates back to 2020. According to a report in The Bangkok Post last September, airport workers were ‘tricked’ into signing new contracts or risked losing their jobs. Several disgruntled employees had already commenced legal action for been terminated without severance pay. The newspaper quoted one terminated security guard saying;

“They saw us as security guards and looked down on us since we had little education. They thought they could trick us into signing those papers.

The origin of the problem lies in a joint venture formed last year

The root of the problem is a deal done earlier in 2020 between Airports of Thailand (who manage six big airports around Thailand) and three security firms that provided security at those airports. They teamed up and formed AOT Aviation Security (AOT AVSEC) and began transferring employees to the new entity. Part of the transfer process involved signing new employment contracts that came with new employment conditions.

The Bangkok Post report says one security guard, along with approximately 100 other employees of one of the security firms, ASM Security Management, was given just ten minutes to resign from ASM and sign the new contracts with AOT AVSEC. ASM had previously employed around 3,500 workers to work at Airports of Thailand’s six airports.

Like elsewhere, big business in Thailand is increasingly turning to outsourced and subcontracted labor to cut costs. No exception to the trend, airports and airlines also frequently outsource their labor. It’s a trend many labor and human rights advocates describe as pernicious. But those outsourcing labor and doing deals, including Airports of Thailand, describe it as simply doing business.

A tourism downturn has hit Thailand’s airports hard. Photo: Getty Images

Revenue plunges at Thailand’s airports

Tourist dependant Thailand has taken a battering over the last 12 months. International arrivals into the country have collapsed, impacting the revenue streams of local airlines and local airports. Airports of Thailand, which runs Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang International Airports, along with Phuket International Airport, Chiang Mai International Airport, Chiang Rai International Airport, and Hat Yai International Airport, has been especially hard hit. Revenue halved over 2020. Notably, in the last three months of 2020, revenue was down 86.49% on the comparable 2019 period.

Employee expenses are traditionally the biggest expense at Airports of Thailand, usually hovering around 25% of overall expenditure. Ironically, despite picking up the tempo of outsourcing workers, employee expenses increased to 31.5% in the last three months of 2020.

Meanwhile, an ugly industrial relations dispute drags on. Following yesterday’s protests, Thai Government labor officials have promised to investigate the worker’s complaints.