Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA is about people – people working together to make things better for all. As the global justice organisation of the Australian union movement, each and every APHEDA supporter, member, partner, activist and participant here in Australia and all around the world contributes to the work it takes to tackle inequality and injustice. This month we speak to Chongchit, a senior union official with the Lao Federation of Trade Unions (LFTU). Chongchit gives us a unique insight into the world of organising and worker’s rights in Laos.
Introduction by Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA’s Regional Mekong Manager, Sharan KC
I have known Madam Chongchit for more than 11 years.
Chongchit is committed to improving the conditions and rights for workers in Laos. Despite her senior position in LFTU, she personally visits workplaces to organise union members. This means she also confronts company managers and supervisors who are not used to dealing with women leaders in Laos. She never lets potential refusals from workplace managers get in her way.
Her results-oriented leadership has led to the recruitment of more than 200 new members and resulted in five Collective Agreements in the past six months.
Chongchit does not shy away from speaking her mind. During the 2016 meeting with trade union solidarity organisations and global union federations, she presented a Lao cloth bag to one of the global union leaders, who then asked her what he could give her as a present in return. She very graciously said that as LFTU needs funds, she expects to see a bag full of money in return!
She is open and democratic in her dealings. She encourages others to speak and has a great skill of summarising meetings and discussions. She is a wonderful, much-needed role model for other young women trade unionists in the LFTU.
How long have you been working with LFTU and what is your role?
I have been working with LFTU for 38 years. When I started working here my first position was as a union journalist (collecting union and labour writing articles, newspaper, radio and TV programs). I was working as union journalist for 30 years before being promoted to Deputy Director of the Department of Training in May, 2010. I became Acting Director in October 2011 and Director in August 2015.
Why is being union important to you?
Trade unions play a crucial role in protecting the benefits and rights of union members and workers in the whole country. My whole life has been working for the union movement (38 years and counting!). I have a deep understanding of all union work and its duty to help and protect union members and Lao workers benefits and rights.
What does it mean to be APHEDA to you?
APHEDA works around the world to support union work and movement building. APHEDA is taking an important role to assist LFTU to move forward in terms of funding and technical support. This assists in our staff capacity development, union work (union organising in the private sector, collective bargaining, health and safety) and international union coordination and networking. Our trade union leaders acknowledge and recognise APHEDA as a LFTU family member (without any doubt!). We have been working together well for many years. APHEDA has provided significant contribution and input to help the trade union movement in Laos move forward. APHEDA has helped us work in a constructive way with innovative ideas to reform trade union movement in Laos to suit to the new era of ASEAN countries – in terms of socio-economic and human resource development – as well as to develop the coordination and networking between LFTU and other trade unions around the world. It was rare for LFTU to have international union networks before APHEDA came along.
What parts of your work are you most proud of? Why?
As I have been working here for 38 years and love the trade union movement, I have learnt and gained a lot of experience. My main roles during my union life include my earlier jobs as press officer and radio/TV speaker for programs relating to labour and workers’ issues. Currently, the director of the training unit, I feel proud of my main tasks relating to building union members’ capacity.
Why do you think it’s important for APHEDA to grow its membership base?
I am so proud of APHEDA’s work and its contribution to assist LFTU. I have learned a lot of new things and gained more experience, particularly learning from a new model in union organising pilot project that we have been working together on in the past year (2017). The new union organising method is designed to help organise in the private sector. Our grass root unions’ report indicates that our project covered 25 private enterprises with 239 new union members (195 women) as well as set up good collective bargaining agreements in 6 enterprises. We are expecting to increase our new union members in the private sector in the special economic development zones in four more provinces through our collaboration with APHEDA and others in the global union movement.
Good support from unionists in Australia allows APHEDA to continue its good work overseas. More members helps APHEDA continue to play a key role in assisting union building in countries like Laos and Cambodia.
What do you see as the work (areas, issues, etc.) that is most important for your organisation on to focus on into the future?
We are going to carry on implementing our union capacity development, union organising and recruiting new union members in the private sector. We expect to achieve 20 percent union membership of all workers in private enterprises across Laos by 2020. We will develop information and education materials, provide information sessions to motivate more workers to join the union, and grow grass roots unions to be stronger. We also have plans to organise workshops on union concepts, roles and responsibilities, and how unions protect the benefits and rights of union members and workers.
Why is it important for Australian unionists to support Union Aid Abroad APHEDA?
APHEDA and Australian union members are vital supporters who assist LFTU to develop its members’ capacity and help the trade union movement in Lao PDR to achieve our short and long terms strategic plans.
One more significant thing APHEDA and Australian union members contributed to was the development of coordination and networking with international and neighbouring country unions. This international union knowledge is vital to us. APHEDA and Union members in Australia provide not only financial support but the opportunity for LFTU to increase our capacity through updating and learning to understand the new socio-economic development in ASEAN countries.