Thailand: Somboon Srikhamdokkhae

Our heart is the only weapon we have. We have to stick together and assert our rights if we are to survive. I would like to see workers get equal rights and to be more fairly protected.

— Somboon Srikhamdokkhae

Somboon Srikhamdokkhae (born 1959) was the first person in Thailand to bring the issue of occupational health and safety to public attention. In 1992, she became a victim of poor environment in the workplace when she acquired bizzinosis, a disease caused by inhaling cotton dust from working in a textile factory. In 1994, she established The Council of Work and Environment Related Patients' Network of Thailand (Wept), a coalition of persons who have fallen ill from work-related illnesses and injuries.

Somboon Srikhamdokkhae walked into a textile factory for the first time on May 10, 1976. Her very first assignment was to go to the factory’s spirit house and make a vow to be honest and hard working and abide by the rules. She recalls, "Nothing was said about the dangers workers might have to face." Sometime before completing ten years of service at the factory, Somboon discovered she had to choose between staying alive or continuing to work there. In 1992, she got bizzinosis, an irreversible respiratory disease associated with inhalation of cotton, flax, or hemp dust. Somboon took unpaid sick leave, resting at home for a while, then trying her hand at a couple of odd jobs. Five months later, Somboon regained her strength sufficiently to return to the factory and fight for her rights and those of her co-workers. Thus, the Council of Work and Environment Related Patients' Network of Thailand was born. Wept operates entirely through the efforts of volunteer members. Somboon has recruited more than 1000 volunteers from different sectors of the economy who almost all share the common problem of having work-related illnesses or injuries. Wept is focused on educational campaigns for appropriate measures be undertaken to prevent work-related diseases and on the promotion of the rights of victims of unhealthy work environments. "Finally", Somboon says, "we hope that our fellow workers, friends and the general public will take measures to protect us all from falling prey to the industrialization development and investment system. And we expect that our fellow workers will change the question frequently posed to us: 'Why do we have to organize ourselves into groups?' and jointly pose the following question to the present government : 'Why is the government inviting lots of foreign investors to Thailand? Why does the government have to be so greedy?'".

The Council of Work and Environment Related Patients' Network of Thailand (Wept)