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

Trade union rights are severely curtailed. The law bans strikes and stoppages. The only trade union organisation in Laos is still closely linked to the Lao People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP), the only political party recognised in law. Nine people were arrested after a rural workers' demonstration.

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 2009

Background: Despite gradually opening up to the outside world, Laos remains a one-party State, run by the Lao People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP) which exercises strict control over the whole of society. In November, parliament adopted a reform of the justice system and removed several judges for "violating the law" but the population has little confidence in the legal system which is perceived as highly corrupt.

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. The LFTU frequently speaks of its role as a collaborator with government in ensuring enforcement of the Labour Law so that the rights of both workers and employers are protected and as a formulator of future labour laws. The LFTU's quasi-state function means it has a dual role as both as 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-run or private sector companies. There is little evidence that the union is able to effectively protect workers' rights, especially in private sector companies to which the LFTU Labour Protection Department has admitted having limited access to workers.

No collective bargaining in practice: The government unilaterally sets wages for government employees, and its decision is not subject to collective bargaining. For private sector employees, the Labour Law gives unions the right to negotiate pay levels with the employer. However, there is no provision in the labour law that compels an employer to bargain or penalises the failure of an employer to bargain.

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