Wilaiwan Saetia (born 1956) was only a teenager when she began working in a textile factory in Bangkok. Now she is president of Thailand’s Women Worker's Unity Group (WWUG), a network of Thai female trade union leaders. She has been actively involved in campaigning for the safety and welfare of factory workers, particularly women, since 1986.
Wilaiwan Saetia did not think she would become a labor activist even though, since her early days as a factory worker, she had witnessed discrimination and deprivation of rights of laborers. In 1992, however, she and her friends were provoked to stand up for their rights, and tried to set up a labor union. Even though that move was suppressed, Wilaiwan Saetia and her colleagues continued their fight until they were able to establish a network for the rights of women workers employed in the textile industry. Wilaiwan says that the rights of the workers are basic human rights, and that social problems will continue to exist if the rights of the workers are not recognized. One major achievement of her group was the approval by parliament of the 1990 Social Security Act, which improved welfare for women with children. Wilaiwan was among 18 workers and students who went on hunger strike in 1989 to pressure parliament to approve the Act. The 90-day paid maternity leave for all working women which took effect in 1993, was also the result of earnest campaigns and demands pressed by Wilaiwan Saetia and her group. They also contributed to changes in labor legislation such as the Labor Protection Act, the Unemployment Insurance Act and others. The Kader doll factory fire on May 10, 1993 which took 188 lives and injured 469 employees led Wilaiwan and her group to press for increased safety standards in the working environment of laborers. Recently, Wilaiwan raised a number of other unresolved labor problems, such as issues concerning environmental health and occupational health. Wilaiwan says safety measures in factories and in workplaces should be made top priority.
Confederation of Laborers