Winning In The Thai Labour Court
This article is about me getting fired from a catholic school in Bangkok, and how I used the Thai labour court to squeeze money out of my former employer. It’s not whether my dismissal was fair or just, whether I was a good or a bad teacher, but how I turned a dismissal that was done reasonably fair, into a two month salary pay-out.
I was getting fired two weeks before the start of the final exam, beginning of February. Chances of me getting a job at the end of the semester was slim and it meant losing over two and a half month’s income. I was not having it.
I am not going into detail of my performance as a teacher. Let us assume I was the worst teacher that the school had ever seen, because that is what they were going to say in court. And they school (my employment agent) had all the paper work to back it: Ten written warnings, teachers’ observations records, and what they didn’t have, I knew they would make it up. I had seen that in court before. Remember, they fabricated lies to get me fired. The Thais will do anything to save a few baht!
I resisted getting fired before end of semester. I was the only teacher at the school working legally with a work permit and I was not going to be an easy push-over. I threatened and intimidated. I networked with other teachers that were fired before me and I looked into the options I had if I was fired. Top on my list was the labour court. I also let them know that the ministry of education was on my list and so was the tax man. I also had the school principal and the Father – the school was a catholic school, listed. I had the name and email of the ministry of education and also listed the ministry of labour. I threatened voodoo and had pictures taken of the staff. Even I was surprised by all the action I was taking.
I know the Thai labour law and told them I would go to the labour court if I was dismissed. That was a mistake. They started to do everything right to fire me. I was given disciplinary hearings with witnesses and everything was in writing. I insisted on it being recorded and I asked for advanced notice of the hearings, but this did not happen.
The notice that my contract would not be renewed was emailed to me, it was hand-delivered to me and the agent with her ‘director of studies’ came to the school and amongst other things told me I was not going to be rehired. They gave me verbally and in writing, more than a month’s notice that my contract was not going to be renewed! The only mistake they made, they did not have a witness of me receiving, or signing my end-of-contract notice. A costly mistake.
The agency paid me my salary until the end of the month (end of April), and paid me my bonus, as well as the cost of my visa. They deducted 3,000 baht for my Bupa card. I demanded the money for the Bupa card, and when they promised to pay it but didn’t, I took them to court.
My lawyer charged me an arm and a leg, but since I’ve been to court with him before, I decided to go with him again. The papers were served and the court date was set. I claimed one month notice pay, one month severance pay, one month for unfair dismissal and the 3,000 baht for the Bupa card.
I paid my lawyer upfront and the deal was that he would defend me doesn’t matter how many court appearances it took to settle the case. Now this was the beauty of my situation. My lawyer was paid for, but the agent on the other hand had to pay her lawyer for every court appearance. I was going to pull out all the stops to win this one: postponement, sick, whatever it would take to wear the defendant out.
The agent I took to court had money and power on their side. I had knowledge and experience of the law on mine. They had far more to lose than myself – they were hiring illegal teachers at their school, and owed the taxman thousands, if not millions! The agency did its best to silence me. I had my article running on ajarn removed, citing 'defamation’.
The Thais and the Thai labour court are always full of surprises. I had my pack of tricks and so did the defendant. I did say I was not too confident in getting any money out of this case, and I was worried that the defendant would play dirty. They could have me bumped off, liquidate their agency, have me arrested and deported for working illegally at my new school. I quite my weekend job and I never revealed my new location to anybody.
So, I was not surprised when the father of my agent was waiting for me at the entrance of the labour court during my first court appearance. He told me to drop the case, intimidating me and telling me that he was rich and that he would use his power against me. What he didn’t tell me, but I knew already, was that he was well connected with the Thai police (if not a former copper himself).
Although the Thai labour law, based on English law is highly developed, the process of constant mediation (trying to get the parties to settle) differs completely from Western models. I was told by my lawyer that the judge always try to get the parties to settle, even up to judgment. They will hear the case, look at the documents and call witnesses, but would constantly refer the case back to mediation, trying to get the parties to settle. The mediation process is quite relaxed. There are no formal court procedures, no recordings and no verdicts.
The first step when you go to the labour court is mediation. It is an informal process where both parties sit around a table with a mediator(s) trying to get them to reach a settlement. Most cases also end here with a settlement out of court.
We spent nearly two hours around the table with the mediators, mostly talking to the defendant (agent). The agent was not negotiating in good faith. I don’t know if this is ignorance, greed, not wanting to lose face, or a smart money move. My guess is that it was both; not wanting to lose face and ignorance. After the two mediators talked to them in private, they came up with a lousy 10,000 baht. I was prepared to negotiate and settle for a fair amount, but this was rather an insult.
During mediation it doesn’t matter how strong (or weak) your case is, nor does it matter what arguments you are using, or what proof you have, it is about reaching a settlement figure. This process can drag on for a few sessions before a settlement is negotiated, but in my case the mediator could see that the agent (defendant) was not going to settle and that there was no middle ground to be reached.
A court date was set for arbitration. Now a panel of judges would hear the case and once again, with some evidence, try to reach a settlement.
I was ready and prepared for my arbitration case and I had a figure to settle on. The court proceedings started late and the defendant looked nervous. She was accompanied by a well dressed lawyer. They wanted my case dismissed with cost. They were not interested in settling and were adamant about it. I knew I was taking a long shot and I was getting nervous.
There were three judges on the bench, the defendant and her lawyer, my lawyer and translator, and me. We started with the judges asking me to leave the room as they wanted to speak to the defendant. The judges at the labour court are super smart negotiators. They know the law, and they bend it to make their case, and will use every trick in the book to get the parties to settle. Besides, their bonus is based on settlement.
My turn was next and the judge asked me if I wanted to settle. I said yes and she started to pull my case apart, telling me that I had a contract (as per my work permit) and was not entitled to severance pay. She asked me for a settlement figure and I asked what the defendant had offered. They didn’t make an offer – they were waiting for me. Smart, I thought. But at least now the defendant (agent) was willing to settle. I argued the merits of my case, and was told that if I didn’t want to settle, we would go into arbitration, with a court date at least three months away. The pressure was on me to settle. I knew the law and the arbitration process. I was not willing to accept any settlement.
After the defendant’s turn, the judges called me in again. The defendant had made an offer! Not what I had wanted, but certainly attractive. After all, any money I was getting here would be a bonus. I tried to haggle and get it raised, but I was not successful. Money was put right under my nose and I decided to grab it. I was going home with money in my pocket. It was going to be red wine and steak for dinner tonight!
Then came the next surprise: The defendant wanted to pay the settlement off over a few months. I refused, pointing to the new BM and the big house. They asked for the money to be paid at a later date. They had worn me down. I agreed. I waited two months (till October 1st) and then it was cling-cling-lotto-lotto-steak-and-red-wine-tonight!
Initially I thought I was going to really enjoy this submission but in the end I have to say that I found it rather distasteful. Rather than being about the court case and describing what it is like in the Labour Court, or giving specific advice to those who might follow – either of which would have made for a good read – it seems to be all about how you and how clever you think you are to manipulate a situation and force money out of someone through a court known to favour employees. I personally have serious misgivings about someone who would do that and I hardly think it is something to be proud of. If you really were hard done by, then by all means file a claim, but one doesn't get the impression that was the case. It would have been nice to have a few more details and the chance to understand the issues regarding the case better.