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Organising Trade Unions in the private sector and eliminating asbestos related diseases in Lao PDR

Aug 31, 2021

Laos is one of 46 Least Developed Countries and has been working toward a goal of reaching Middle Income Country status by the year 2026. With a transition away from its existing, largely rural and planned economy, toward an open economy, Lao PDR has seen a rapid increase in the private sector. Despite an increase in private sector jobs, Lao PDR remains a country of concern for workers. In its recent Global Labour Rights Survey, the ITUC placed Lao PDR with a group of countries deemed second worst in the world, countries where “there is no guarantee of rights for workers”.

Within this context, in 2016, Lao Federation of Trade Unions and Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA jointly designed and piloted a model for organizing in the private sector. The success of the pilot model in evaluations resulted in the project being scaled up and implemented in three provinces between 2018 and 2021. The project focus was to build the capacity of the Lao Federation of Trade Unions to organize within the rapidly expanding private sector and, through organised labour, improve the rights and conditions for private sector workers.

During implementation, since the beginning of 2020, COVID 19 control measures have seriously impacted Lao workers and limited the efforts of Lao Federation of Trade Unions to organise. Around 147,000 migrant workers have returned from overseas and many more of the estimated 115,000 Lao people still working abroad continue to flow back home, mostly from Thailand. With about 63,000 jobs lost as a result of COVID 19, unemployment is expected to increase by over 20 percent.

During the past year, despite the impact of COVID 19, the Lao Federation of Trade Unions increased private sector membership by 1952 workers (including 971 women), conducted 39 occupational safety and health trainings, established 38 new unions and improved working conditions through 7 collective bargaining agreements.

“It was rare for LFTU to have international union networks before APHEDA came along…. Good support from unionists in Australia allows APHEDA to continue its good work overseas…. continue to play a key role in assisting union building in countries like Laos…”

Madam Chongchit, senior leader of the LFTU

The project is currently being evaluated to understand what worked and how organising in Lao’s new and rapidly increasing private sector might be improved to protect and strengthen worker’s rights.

“We won’t stop here. We will recruit more and more members!”

Kamphat, LFTU Union Organiser

LFTU’s Organizing Trade Unions in the private sector and eliminating asbestos related diseases in Lao PDR is supported by the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP), Australian trade unions, and members of Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA.

Support worker's rights in Laos and beyond!

Around the world, workers are organising to build their collective power at work and in their communities. By becoming a member of Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA, you will be contributing towards projects like this that give unionists the knowledge, skills, and power to defend their rights.

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