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2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Laos

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 8 June 2011
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Laos, 8 June 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4ea661fe2d.html [accessed 19 April 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 6,300,000
Capital: Vientiane
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 100 – 111 – 138 – 182

Trade union rights are severely restricted. The only trade union organisation in Laos is closely linked to the Lao People's Revolutionary Party, the only political party recognised in law.

TRADE UNION RIGHTS IN LAW

While the Constitution guarantees some freedoms to Lao citizens, there is little room for trade union activities in the law. All unions must belong to the Lao Federation of Trade Unions (LFTU), which is directly controlled by the ruling party. The law further prohibits union members from organising an "illegal group, gathering, or protest and acts" that are found to damage the union as well as the interest of the state or the collective interest. Those who join an organisation that encourages protests, demonstrations and actions that might cause "turmoil or social instability" face imprisonment of between one and five years. Furthermore, the law meticulously regulates the internal organisation of unions, and stipulates that only Lao nationals can become union members.

While protection against anti-union dismissals is secured, the law does not protect workers against retaliation short of dismissal, e.g. transfers for "disciplinary reasons". In the Labour Law, unions are only acknowledged in the context of identification of workers for redundancy, the possibility to negotiate on wage levels and to assist individual workers in settling disputes. Finally, the dispute resolution system fails to provide any possibility of legal strike action, as all disputes must be settled by negotiation, mediation, arbitration or by the People's Court.

TRADE UNION RIGHTS IN PRACTICE AND VIOLATIONS IN 2010

Background: Despite a progressive opening to the outside world, Laos remains a one-state party, run by the Lao People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP) which exercises strict control over the whole of society. Investors are taking control of large parts of the territory for hydro electric projects, mines, forests and plantations but the compensation given to the dispossessed inhabitants is too low and this is a source of tension.

Union and party hand in glove: Given that the Lao Federation of Trade Unions (LFTU) and the Lao People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP) are so closely knit, the LFTU effectively enables the party to control the workers. In its official declarations, the LFTU frequently speaks of its collaborative role with the government to ensure enforcement of the labour law so that the rights of both workers' and employers' are protected and as a formulator of future labour laws. This LFTU's quasi-state function means it has a dual role as both a controller as well as a potential protector of labour.

Factory level LFTU representatives are usually LPRP members and/or part of the management of state-owned or private companies. There is little evidence that the union is able to effectively protect workers' rights in particular in private sector companies where the LFTU has admitted having limited access to workers.

In practice, the International Federation for Human Rights criticises the systematic non-application of labour law which deprives Lao workers of their rights.

Repression of the freedom to demonstrate and of association: Four leaders of the "Student movement of 26 October" remain in prison, 11 years after organising a peaceful protest in Vientiane in October 1999 for social justice, democratic reform and the respect of human rights. They are Thongpaseuth Keuakoun, Sengaloun Phengphanh, Bouavanh Chanmanivong and Keochay (their comrade Khamphouvieng Sisa-At died in prison in 2001 as a result of torture and ill treatment). Nine other people, one a mother of three children, remain in prison for taking part in a demonstration to Vientiane demanding justice and respect for their fundamental rights.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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