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 2014 winner of 17th Award

For a real protection of worker’s rights…
                                           Wilaiwan Sae-Tia(Vice-Chair of Thai Labor Solidarity Committee)  
Dear    Committee and distinguished guests, I am much honored to standing here to received the13th Tji-Hak-soon justice and peace award   and to share with you my struggle. More importantly, I would like to extend this honor to my sisters and brothers working to protect workers’ rights not only in Thailand but also in every corners of the world and everyone here who is involved in this movement, who works with great determination to raise awareness in our society to realize that our rights are being abused and that injustice is still present. As these individuals are also here in this room, please give them a round of applause.

My name is Wilaiwan Sae-Tia. I grew up in a farmer family in Thailand’s driest and poorest highland. I didn’t have the opportunity to spend much time in school as I had to work and help my mother since I was very young. After my parents’ divorce, I was never in one place for a long time but moving from one relative’s house to another. At 19, I decided to move to Bangkok and work in textile factory for a minimum daily wage of 20 baht ( less than 1 USD). After 30 years, I’m still working at the same place and receiving a daily wage. But one thing that is different today: I’m not just an ordinary textile worker like I was before. Today, I understand my rights and I have stood up to protect the rights of other workers as well as mine.

Before I come here to stand in front of you today, I had faced with many challenges in my life. There were beautiful memories. There were also painful memories I never wish to mention. But every lesson and mistake makes me stronger to reclaim the rights of the people I share the same occupation label. My faith for this social movement never recedes but persistently continues forward.

When I first started working as a textile factory worker, I had the chance to join a meeting on worker’s rights. That was the beginning of my involvement in the movement. My rights, too, were taken away. When I resumed back to work in the factory, I was transferred to another department and was not allowed to work over time. The company set up a negotiation afterward but that incident oriented my life into another direction; it led me to join a movement that calls for a real protection of worker’s rights

We launched the first rally at our factory in 1981. The pay was too low and the company wanted to dismiss many of its employees. We gathered and decided to stop working for 10 consecutive days. We set up a “Labor Union” and I was nominated to join the committee and later on I was selected as a coordinator for the Aomnoi-Aomyai trade union groups. Afterward, I was selected to be the president of “Women Worker Integration Group” which is an independent women worker organization in Thailand fighting for women’s worker rights.
After that, I was the first woman who was selected to be the president of Thai Workers Solidarity Committee which is an independent labor organization for 6 years
In 1990, we went on a hunger strike to demand a new social Security act. The newly ratified law would change Thailand forever. It called for protection of worker’s rights including 90 days maternity leave, compensation after death, and savings for elderly workers. More people would be covered and insured by this legislation.

On 10 May 1993, Kader Factory was set ablaze with a total death toll of 188 young workers, over 400 injured, and at least 1,000 people were affected by the fire. Our organization called for compensation paid to all affected, injured, and dead workers, as well as mitigation for their families. This event led the government to declare 10 May of every year as “National Workplace Safety Day.”

The loss these Kader workers had to face turned into a very important lesson for everyone: Occupational Health and safety of workers can never be neglected. The loss was immense; it made me appreciate the value of worker’s rights movement even more. As an ordinary human and as a worker, I believe workers are creators of the world and we must take part in changing this world into a better place.

The Thai Labor Solidarity Committee compiled issues related to worker’s rights from organizations throughout Thailand and came up with at least 10 main categories. We have tried to present these cases to every government who comes into power. Some of the cases received the attention and brought changes. Some of them were ignored completely. Even though it’s much more difficult to gain public participation in today’s political situation, we must remain steadfast in our stronghold. We must remember that no right is ever given to us. Every right needs to be fought by tiny people like us.

Looking back, being respectful, attentive, cooperative, and open to all criticisms – these four characteristics have always been my work mottos. Of course, you would find more or less friction holding back your work, especially if you are a woman who stands in the midst of a male-dominant society like Thailand. The key is to stay tolerances and resolute. It is important to remember that our guiding principle should be based on good-heartedness not personal interests or to gain a higher social position. These are the values that lead me to be accepted and supported by workers   I work with.

Thirty years of experience proves to me that we can learn by doing. I did not receive the same formal educational opportunity as my peers but that did not stop me, or anyone of us, from being part of this movement to bring changes into our society. This is what I see as the most valuable. No money can buy this. I would like to remind our friends, the workers, to never feel you worth less than anyone. You’re not just a laborer. Opportunity is everywhere. It’s up to you to take that step forward and attain what opportunity throws at you.

Again, I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to you all for giving for giving me this opportunity.  Thank you thank you.

2015 winner of 18th Award
2013winner of 16th Award

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