Weaving their way to victory

15-year legal battle finally comes to an end

The Supreme Court has upheld a lower court decision to award compensation to a group of 38 textile workers suffering from lung diseases.











Namo Nopsophon and Piyawadee Pipopsomboon are overwhelmed after the Supreme Court yesterday upheld a lower court ruling awarding them and 36 other members of staff of Bangkok Weaving Factory compensation of about 8 million baht. The company was found to have failed to provide a proper working environment which resulted in the staff developing byssinosis.

The ruling, read out by the Labour Court yesterday, brought an end to a 15-year legal battle by the staff of Bangkok Weaving Factory led by Somboon Sikhamdokkae.

They have been diagnosed with byssinosis, an occupational respiratory disorder found among textile workers who inhale too much cotton or other dust.

The Supreme Court rejected the textile company's appeal against the lower court's ruling which ordered a compensation payment of 8million baht including interest to the ailing workers. The management of Bangkok Weaving Factory was found guilty of violating the Environment Act for failing to provide a safe working environment.

Even though the struggle ended in a victory for the workers, legal and medical experts said it was still not good enough.

Chiang Mai University law lecturer Somchai Silpapreechakul said yesterday the case fitted the term "justice delayed is justice denied".

He said the court battle took 15 years, a time during the process of which opportunities were lost and spirits dampened.

Mr Somchai said it was about time to revamp the legal procedures in the Labour Court which was established to offer inexpensive and swift services to the labour sector. "After splitting the money, each will get less than 1,500 baht a month," he said.

Orapan Methadilokkul, an occupational disease expert at Rajavithi Hospital, said the ruling was a milestone for other workers engaged in work-related injuries.

"The court has acknowledged medical facts and established that they suffer from occupational diseases," she said.

Ms Orapan said she hoped the case would lead to a rush to better protect workers.

As a specialist in this field and a witness in the case, she said she was happy for Bangkok Weaving Factory workers even though it had been a long fight.

Ms Somboon, who headed the campaign against the management, yesterday hailed the ruling even though the amount of payment was not much for individual workers after it was split.

"Compared with our health loss, physical and mental, the amount is such a really modest sum. We have become fragile, easily exhausted and vulnerable," she said.

Ms Somboon called on the establishment of a special labour court to process complaints involving work-related injuries which are a "matter of life and death".

"These cases need to be processed swiftly to ensure prompt actions or solutions. There is a wide range of occupational diseases and hazards," she said.

The Bangkok Weaving Factory case was filed with the Labour Court on May 9, 1992.

The company and managing director Phongsak Assakul were accused of having failed to provide a proper working environment which led to the staff developing byssinosis.

The disorder is found among textile workers who inhale too much cotton or other dust.