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A union meeting on Phuket. Well, not quite, but it could be . . . although being a worker in Paradise does not necessarily mean all your dreams come true.

When Workers Unite

Sunday, November 25, 2007
GENERAL MANAGERS of resorts often tend to look embarrassed when you mention the word ?????????union.????????? It can be an unwanted image, especially among some big hotel chains.

The Marriott group, for example, was once renown for its resistance to unionism and not anxious to open in countries where union movements were strong.

Yet the union within the hospitality industry on Phuket has a surprising presence among some of the leading resorts on the island, both north and south.

While most unionists are in resorts that have a good reputation and are regarded as treating staff well, occasionally there are public flare-ups.

About 200 staff at Laguna Beach Resort, one of six resorts at Laguna Phuket, took to the streets a few weeks ago to block traffic along the road to the five-star resort from the afternoon until 2am one morning in a dispute about pay rates.

Eventually a vice-governor came to listen to the protesters. It was especially embarrassing to have staff mounting such a public protest in Laguna Phuket's 20th anniversary year.

Yet the resort as a whole has an enviable reputation for providing first-rate child care and health welfare, among other benefits.

Laguna as a group also gets on well with the surrounding villages and is considered to be ?????????community minded.?????????

Because the resorts all have individual managements, the dispute concerned only Laguna Beach Resort.

The issue was primarily about money. Laguna Beach Resort staff claimed that pay rises were so hard to achieve that newcomers sometimes earned the same rate as people with up to 15 years' service.

Union leaders said that claims of unfair treatment had first been raised six years ago and negotiations broke down. So they took to the streets.

The dispute has now been resolved.

Each union resort branch operates separately, although comparisons are made between the standards and the conditions at various resorts.

Other public protests in recent years have involved the Evason and the Diamond Cliff. While the Evason continues to be unionised, the Diamond Cliff is not.

The President of the Phuket Federation of Hotel and Service Labor, Vijit Dasuntad, says that setting up a union at a resort has to be done in secret because it's always possible that general managers may sack the organisers if their plan is discovered.

At least 10 members are required. Once the union is registered it has official standing under Thai law, although survival isn't always guaranteed unless management is reasonably tolerant.

A management that does not address issues raised by the union clearly risks collective action at some point.

Benefits achieved by the union can flow to union members ????????? and often to non-members as well.

Khun Vijit says the unions try to make sure staff are treated fairly and gave them a representative voice in discussions.

The first hospitality union was created 12 years ago on Phuket. About 4000 workers are now members, with 14 resorts having union branches.

While the move in some Western countries is away from unionism to individual workplace bargaining, unions still have a place whenever employers take advantage of workers.

They are also an effective way of dealing with staff collectively in workplaces where there may not necessarily be any problems, too.

The resorts where unions have members are: Le Meridien Yacht Club, Le Meridien Patong, Novotel Patong, Laguna Beach Resort, Sheraton Grande Laguna Phuket, Dusit Thai Laguna Resort, Banyan Tree Phuket Resort, Alamanda, Amanpuri, Club Med, Evason Phuket Resort and Spa, Holiday Inn Resort, the Amora Resort, the Trisara Resort.

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