By Alisa Tang
BANGKOK, March 17 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A Thai court on Friday dismissed a compensation claim by 14 migrant workers from Myanmar who had alleged labour violations at a chicken farm that supplied to the European Union.
In their lawsuit against Thammakaset farm and its buyer, agricultural giant Betagro, the workers had alleged forced overtime, unlawful salary deductions, passport confiscation and limited freedom of movement. They demanded around $1.3 million in compensation and civil damages.
The Saraburi province labour court dismissed the case and upheld an August 2016 order by the labour protection department for the farm to pay the workers nearly $49,000 for unpaid wages for overtime work.
"The court stood by the investigators' findings, but they didn't look into our claims about passport confiscation or sleeping next to the chicken coops," said Suthasinee Kaewleklai, a coordinator with the Migrant Worker Rights Network (MWRN), a local non-profit supporting the workers' case.
"We're satisfied to an extent, but we need to ask the workers if they have the energy to continue fighting this case," she said.
In interviews with the Thomson Reuters Foundation last year, the workers said they clocked 20 hours a day for 40 days straight during intensive chick-rearing periods, sleeping in hammocks next to the gigantic warehouses where the flock lived.
They earned $7 a day, though the legal daily minimum wage for eight-hour days is $8.60, with one day off per week.
Thammakaset owner Chanchai Pheamphon denied the charges and said the staff voluntarily worked nights to rack up bonuses and chose to sleep next to the chicken warehouse.
Chanchai said on Friday he would appeal the court's ruling. "I want them to cancel the compensation order," he said. "I am appealing because I don't agree with the order to pay the workers 1.7 million baht ($49,000)."
Chanchai, who has said he is facing bankruptcy after Betagro halted business with him, has separately pursued criminal defamation cases against the 14 migrant workers and British rights activist Andy Hall, who has championed the workers.
Thailand has been at the centre of scores of reports of slavery and human trafficking, with migrants from Myanmar suffering the worst exploitation.
In the face of mounting scrutiny of supply chains, Thailand has strengthened laws to crack down on labour exploitation.
(Reporting by Alisa Tang @alisatang, editing by Ed Upright. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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