On 11 July 2018, Don Mueang Magistrate's Court read its verdict in the case between Thammakaset chicken farm and 14 Myanmar migrant workers. The workers were former employees of the farm and were charged by the Farm with criminal defamation and giving false information to officials, in relation to the workers' reporting rights violation to the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRCT) in part seeking a remedy. The court dismissed the case by saying that the defendants reported with good faith to protect their legitimate interest and it can not be admissible that the defendants provided false information.
The court stated that the defendants complained to NHRCT with three different issues which are:
1) The defendants had to work from 07.00 am to 05.00 pm and work over time from 07.00 pm to 05.00 am without holidays.
2) The defendants had received payment lower than the minimum wage under Thai laws
3) The defendant's freedom of movement was restricted. When they went out of the chicken farm, the plaintiff's agent must accompany them and the defendants' passports and other identification documents were seized.
The court ruled that it needed to determine the situation on each of these three issues.
First, on the working time issue, the plaintiff claimed its working regulation that employees need to work only at daytime but Chanchai, the plaintiff proxy, testified without submitting such documents and he admitted that the employees needed to punch in and punch out with timecards. The standard of chicken farms provided that during some periods the light in the farm must be turned on 16 hours or 23 hours per day. If the defendants worked at night only because they wanted extra bonus payment when chicken had more weight when sold, as the plaintiff claimed, they wouldn't have to punch in and punch out. The plaintiff's employees once testified to officers from Ministry of Labour's Department of Labour Protection and Welfare (DLPW) that all generations of chicken will start at 18.00 pm and after that chickens need to be looked after. So employees needed to work at night. While Chanchai, the plaintiff proxy, testified to the court that the plaintiff provided beds in the farm which meant the defendants needed to take care of food and water for chickens during night time especially when chickens were 1-7 days old. The court found the plaintiff's claim, that the defendants work at night by themselves, inadmissible. Even though, the defendants told NHRCT that they can sleep during 10.00 pm to 03.00 am, which is an important fact, the report to NHRCT is only a notification of problems and the NHRCT can find other detail by itself. The documents cannot show that the defendants intended to hide this fact. The court could not find that the defendant informed officials with false information.
Second, on the payment issue, Chanchai, the plaintiff proxy, told the court that there were agreements that the plaintiff will take house rent 1,600 baht per month, electricity cost 1,400 baht per month, tap water cost 1,200 baht per month and drinking water 80 baht per month from the salary payment. The court sees that the payment receipt in this case was made after officers from Ministry of Labour's DLPW examined the plaintiff's farm. It is therefore inadmissible evidence. The defendants argued that the agreements mentioned only drinking water not for other costs. The labor court has already determined on this issue that the payment is actually lower that the legal minimum wage anyhow.
Third, on freedom of movement issues, Chanchai, the plaintiff's proxy, testified that the farm is some kilometres far from markets so the plaintiff had driver to take its employees to markets. Even though some of the defendants can travel back home to Myanmar, but they need to ask for permission a month in advance and they cannot travel when there are chickens in the farm being reared. The plaintiff claimed that it returned passports to defendants after it applied for work permit but it cannot present documents related to work permit or witnesses who were responsible for this process. The court believe that the plaintiff seized the defendants' passports and work permit, therefore, the defendants could not carry identification documents to show to police officers when they went out of the farm. The defendants could feel that their rights to travel were limited. This is the fact they report to NHRCT and not a false information.
All 14 defendants are migrant workers who have the rights under labour protection laws of Thailand on payment, working time, holidays and rights to hold their identification documents. The defendants complained to NHRCT without false information because they felt that their rights were violated under the Thai Constitution and Thai laws. They have legitimate rights to complain to NHRCT who has a duty under the law to investigate their complaint.
The court sees that the defendants had good faith without intention to impute the plaintiff to be damaged. The court believed that the defendants defend or protect their legitimate interest which is an exception under Section 329(1) and it is not a criminal defamation.
The case is therefore dismissed.