Activists up in arms over new factory law
The Nation 20 February 2019 | PRATCH RUJIVANAROM
PROPOSED LAW AIMS TO BOOST INVESTMENT AT THE COST OF HEALTH AND ENVIRONMENT
THE POLLUTION crisis will only worsen if the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) pushes through the revised Factory Act, environmentalists warned yesterday.
Several environment protection groups called on the NLA to reject the bill and avoid taking the country down a path of environmental and health dystopia.
A line-up of new laws awaits the legislature’s approval, with the newly amended and controversial Factory Bill scheduled for discussion and vote today. The proposed law has been slammed for weakening regulations that protect the environment and people’s health from industrial by-products.
Penchom Saetang, director of Ecological Alert and Recovery Thailand (Earth), said the new law aimed to boost investment at the expense of people’s health and the environment. Allowing large-scale exemptions and watering down protection measures will create a severe health and environmental crisis, Penchom added.
“It will only improve the country’s industrial investment atmosphere slightly, but enforcing this law will harm the country as a whole due to its severe adverse impacts. Industrial investors will also be among the victims,” she warned.
By easing the requirements, the law will contribute to industrial pollution and stir up conflict between investors and locals, she explained.
“Worse environmental problems will pop up,” she said, because under the new law, factories with fewer than 50 employees will no longer be required to register.
“So, not only will these small factories pop up everywhere, they will also not be subjected to regular inspections.”
However, she warned that factory owners will not escape negative impacts either. Once conflicts with local communities arise, production will be slowed or even completely suspended.
Not easy for owners either
“They will also face unforeseen expenses such as lawsuits or a damaged reputation,” Penchom warned.
Gunn Tattiyakul, Eastern Economic Corridor Watch coordinator, said as many as 60,539 or 43 per cent of total factories nationwide will no longer be considered factories under the new law.
“This means that almost half of the factories in this country will no longer be subject to environment and health-protection regulations, so we are going to face even greater threats from PM2.5 and other industrial pollution,” Gunn cautioned.
Also, under the new law, factory licences will no longer have an expiration date, which means inspections that used to take place every five years for licence renewal will be suspended. Factory owners will also be able to easily expand their facilities without having to seek permission.
However, supporters of the Factory Act say the redefinition of factories will allow local administrative bodies to regulate small operations in their area, and also promote decentralisation of the governing system.
Meanwhile, Thongchai Chawalitpichaet, director-general of the Industrial Works Department, said further liberalisation of industrial regulations was being planned.
He also said that under the new law, thprivate factories’ inspectors, hired by the factories themselves, as the means to strengthening the strictness of the industry inspections and solve the improper inspections, previously done by the officers.
“Even though licences will no longer need to be renewed, the department will regularly inspect all factories. But now, better qualified private experts will replace the existing officials to improve the quality of service,” Thongchai said.
What will the Factory Act include?
- A new legal definition of “factory” will change the status of nearly 43 per cent or over 60,000 factories across the nation, freeing them from any legal bindings.
- A new legal definition of “factory construction” will make industrial investments easier.
- Factory licences will have no expiration date after Articles 14 and 15 of the previous version of the law are dropped.
- Factories can be easily expanded after Article 19/1 is amended.
- Easing regulations on industrial pollution will put the well-being of locals at risk.
Sources: Ecological Alert and Recovery Thailand (Earth) and Eastern Economic Corridor Watch