Trade unions and workers are here

How does "democratic workplace" look like for you? Trade unionists and workers from all across the region are here to share and put together their aspirations, dreams and hopes.

There is no democracy without trade unions and that is why unionists and workers join hands today to highlight and promote a fairer and more sustainable yet democratic future of decent work for all workers regardless of their colors of collars. 

On May Day 2024, workers and unionists gather to voice out how they have made their workplaces more democratic or wish to have such workplaces to be more sustainably democratic. From North to South and Southeast Asia, where FES Asia shines a spotlight on and empowers trade unionists and workers from all across the region, they come forward to showcase their equal participation at workplaces, their involvement in decision-making process, how their voices and plights are heard in order to consequently improve their job satisfaction, productivity and overall well-being.


Shaping the Future: Democratic Workplace for Motorcycle Taxi Riders in Bangkok

In the bustling streets of Bangkok, motorcycle taxis have become an indispensable part of the city's transportation network, bridging gaps in public transit with their agility and accessibility. According to the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA), there are approximately 90,000 registered motorcycle taxi riders in Bangkok. The actual number including the non-registered is estimated to be around 200,000. Motorcycle taxi drivers, considered independent workers rather than employees, are excluded from the protection of labor laws that enable union formation and collective bargaining.

According to Chalerm Changthongmadun, President of the Motorcycle Taxi Association of Thailand, a democratic workplace in the context of motorcycle taxi riders would mean having the ability to organize collectively, stronger bargaining power, and actively participating in decision-making processes that affect workers’ livelihoods. He highlights the decline from four thousand to two hundred active association members over the years since the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) seized power in 2014 with restrictions on gatherings as well as unratified ILO Conventions 87(on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize) and 98 (on Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining). This lack of right to organize and collective bargaining power leaves motorcycle taxi riders vulnerable to exploitative practices and unfair regulations, particularly in the face of emerging ride-hailing apps.

Motorcycle taxi riders affiliated with platforms experience a 15% - 25% fee deduction from their earnings without receiving essential benefits like health insurance and holidays. They are required to work at least 10 hours daily for an adequate income for living. They need policy interventions to ensure decent work conditions. Through collective efforts, they can negotiate for a fairer fee allocation for platform or even create their own ride-hailing platform in which they can take part in the decision-making processes. In addition, formal regulations enforced by authorities restrict motorcycle taxi riders to picking up passengers only within designated zones, while platform-based riders have the freedom to operate city-wide. This disparity underscores the need for greater democratic representation and advocacy for fair regulations that accommodate the needs of motorcycle taxi riders. Additionally, rising energy prices and inflation, coupled with fixed and government-controlled motorcycle taxi fees, have eroded the real earnings of riders over the years. Collective advocacy can empower riders to push for fee adjustments that reflect the economic realities they face, ensuring their livelihoods remain sustainable.

Chalerm suggests that motorcycle taxi riders’ aspirations go beyond the above concerns to encompass broader societal matters. Motorcycle taxi riders aspire to play a meaningful role in mitigating climate change by transitioning to electric vehicles (EVs). Currently, the price of the EV is double that of the traditional motorcycle, which the riders can hardly afford. Towards a democratic workplace, Motorcycle taxi riders hope to have the collective power to negotiate affordable pricing schemes with EV manufacturers or advocate for government support initiatives. Therefore, by engaging in collective action, exercising strong bargaining power, and actively participating in decision-making processes, motorcycle taxi riders can achieve a democratic workplace.


As May Day approached, Mark Joseph Prueksakij, a young entrepreneur found himself reflecting on the values he held dear—equality, fairness, and democracy. Inspired by the spirit of the international workers' holiday, he decided to take a bold step: he would like to transform Red Room into a beacon of workplace democracy. He shared his vision that he wanted Red Room to be more than just a café restaurant; he wanted it to be a community where every voice matters, where decisions are made collectively, and where everyone had a stake in the more success stories to come.


"The democratic workplace should ensure that a worker has the freedom to speak up for their rights and stand up in solidarity with fellow workers"

Syed Muhammad Asif - Vice President of Pakistan Central Mines Labour Federation (PCMLF) and alumni of Pakistan Labour Academy

Legal restrictions, intimidation and harassment, lack of awareness, weak enforcement, and overall economic pressures; despite these challenges, there have also been instances of successful unionization efforts and advocacy for workers' rights in Pakistan. Civil society organizations, labor rights activists, and international bodies have worked to support workers in their efforts to organize, advocate for better working conditions, and hold employers and the government accountable for labor rights violations.


“Without democratic rights in the workplace, a worker is unable to lead a healthy and vigorous life. Furthermore, they are deprived of all social and state benefits and subject to discrimination.”

Bachchu Miah - General Secretary, Bangladesh Garments Workers & Employees Federation


“Democracy is governed by the people. This system emphasizes the significance of worker participation, empowerment, and mutual cooperation within the workplace. Democracy at workplace fosters a more inclusive and engaging environment, where workers feel valued, respected, and motivated to perform at their best.”

Tahmina Rahman - General Secretary, Bangladesh Apparels Workers Federation (BAWF)


“A democratic workplace should be one where workers can discuss ideas, voice their problems related to work, and receive support to mitigate those problems, without the fear of losing their jobs.”

Sheetal - India’s Public Bus Driver


Generally, a democratic workplace has a great effect on employees’ satisfaction, motivation, creativity and dedication to the work, which leads to an increased effectiveness and productivity within the organization.

If we look at various aspects of life and different types of structures, we can see that democracy cannot always be practiced harmonically with the characteristics, fundamental elements, and purpose of particular field of work. For instance, in the area of medical or military service, where preparedness, speed and following orders in the event of an emergency are key elements, the imagination of a typical democracy can easily get out of the focus.

Our protagonist Naranjargal from Mongolia, senior physician at the branch Songinokhairkhan of the Emergency medical service centers of the capital city Ulaanbaatar and a chairwoman of the trade union committee, shares her thoughts, hopes and aspirations on having a democratic workplace.

Despite the differences between the jobs, the trade unionists are actively pursuing and advocating on the process to improve equal participation at workplace and to result in a better functioning democracy according to the nature of work.


“My hope for a democratic workplace includes fair wages, safe working conditions, and opportunities for collective decision-making. I dream of a workplace where my voice is heard and respected. My hope is for a future where workers are empowered through trade unions to advocate for their rights in an equitable society. I hope someday there will be respect for all workers equally.”

Shiva Pariyar - Nepal’s Tote Bag Factory Worker


South Korea, a country renowned for its economic prowess and technological innovation, stands at a crucial juncture in its journey towards social justice and equality. Despite its impressive economic growth, the country continues to grapple with deep-rooted issues of labor exploitation and oppressive labor management practices. Normalizing labor unions and fighting against oppressive labor management are imperative.

Cho Taewook, a worker of at Korea Telecom and a core member of the Korea Telecom Workers' Union, was fired along with other colleagues for being an active trade unionist. He is currently fighting against the oppressive labor management and trying to campaign for the normalization of the labor union in South Korea.

South Korea's journey towards social justice and equality hinges on its ability to confront oppressive labor management practices and empower labor unions. By prioritizing workers' rights, promoting democratic values, and fostering inclusive economic growth, South Korea can create a brighter and more equitable future for all its citizens.


“As a freelancer, I work alone and deal with the client directly. The main challenges for me are when the client gives me a tight deadline to finish the work; and when it takes too long for the client to settle the payment. I understand that it is a consequence of the job, but I always try to have an open discussion with the client. I stick to my own timeline to deliver high quality design work and would never risk my own health – especially now that I have a baby. I try to get most of the work done when my baby is asleep, not to mention the house chores that are still there.”

Aulia - Freelance Graphic Designer, Jakarta, Indonesia

Freelance workers in Indonesia generally have the freedom to express their opinions, organize, and advocate for their rights. Social media platforms and digital communication tools have provided avenues for freelance workers to connect, share information, and mobilize around common issues. There is also a growing awareness among freelance workers in Indonesia about their rights and the importance of collective action. Civil society organizations, labor unions, and advocacy groups have been working to raise awareness about labor rights, provide resources and support, and empower freelance workers to assert their rights. While the rise of digital platforms for freelance work has created opportunities for the workers to access a global market, find clients, and manage their own schedules. Platforms such as Upwork, Fiverr, and Freelancer.com provide avenues for freelance workers to showcase their skills and find employment opportunities.

However, there are prevailing challenges regarding legal protections as Indonesian freelance workers often lack legal protections and benefits afforded to traditional employees. They may not have access to social security, healthcare, or other benefits, and may face challenges in seeking recourse for issues such as non-payment or contract disputes. On the one hand, freelance work can be precarious, with fluctuating income and inconsistent work opportunities. Many freelance workers in Indonesia struggle to earn a livable wage and may face financial insecurity, especially during periods of economic uncertainty or downturn.

Overall, while freelance work offers flexibility and opportunities for many individuals in Indonesia, there remain significant challenges related to labor rights, income security, and access to resources. Addressing these challenges will require concerted efforts from government, civil society, and the private sector to strengthen legal protections, promote fair labor practices, and support the rights and well-being of freelance workers.


"In a truly democratic workplace, workers should possess the power to collectively bargain with management to negotiate better working conditions, as well as participate in the decision-making processes that affect their jobs. Workers can gain this power by organizing into a union."

Gelo Tolentino - Industrial Relation Officer, Associated Philippine Seafarers' Union - Associated Labor Unions

Thank you all workers, trade unionists and colleagues who joined us raising voices towards democratic future of decent work on May Day.

FES Asia

Bringing together the work of our offices in the region, we provide you with the latest news on current debates, insightful research and innovative visual outputs on the future of work, geopolitics, gender justice, and social-ecological transformation.