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Lao PDR Strategic Plan 2011-201405 June 2012
Lao PDR remains one of the poorest countries in South East Asia. The effects of many decades of colonialism, conflict and isolation and its slow integration into the global economy are still widely apparent.
General development situation
The Lao People's Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) is located in the middle of the Mekong Sub-Region and is completely landlocked. Since 1975, Lao PDR has been governed by the Lao People's Revolutionary Party. Since emerging from war and cold-war related isolation, Lao PDR is increasingly taking steps to integrate itself into the global economy, especially since the introduction of the New Economic Mechanism in 1986. This has resulted in above average economic growth, but with the corollary of increasing inequality. Poverty is reducing slowly but remains a significant issue with over 70% of Lao's 6.2 million people living on less than two dollars a day, the overwhelming majority of whom live in rural and remote areas. Life expectancy, malnourishment, maternal mortality and infant mortality all remain high, but are decreasing over time.
The economy is dominated by subsistence agriculture, but there is significant diversification occurring, including in tourism, construction, mining, wood processing and hydro-electricity generation. Mega-infrastructure construction, such as dam construction is a large part of the economy, fulfilling the nation's goal to be a 'battery of Asia'.
The general development situation in Lao PDR is also influenced by the legacy of the American War. Lao PDR became the most heavily bombed country on earth during this time and it is estimated approximately one quarter of all villages are still contaminated by unexploded ordinance
Lao PDR is one of the most environmentally sensitive countries and bio-diverse countries on earth. Environmental degradation is accelerating through under-regulated logging and mining. Climate change is likely to impact upon agriculture (and consequently nutrition and hunger) as well as increase the likelihood of natural disasters such as flooding. Planned dam construction on the Mekong River is likely have a catastrophic environmental impact on the river, including endangered species including fish migration. The effect of significant damming of the Mekong will be felt through Cambodia and Vietnam.
Laos's progress report on meeting the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 is mixed. It is likely that it will meet the goals of halving extreme poverty, reducing under-5 mortality by two thirds and halting and reversing the spread of malaria and tuberculosis. Other goals such as universal primary school teaching, eliminating gender disparities in all levels of education and reducing maternal mortality are likely not to be achieved due to slow progress. Some targets such as reducing hunger by half, universal access to reproductive health and reversing the loss of environmental resources are unlikely to be met
Civil society remains tightly controlled by government systems but significant liberalisation has occurred recently, including a new association's law that allows local non-government organisations to be formed. The Laos Federation of Trade Unions is the sole union federation and is directly linked to the ruling Lao People's Revolutionary Party.
Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA's country history
APHEDA's projects with the Lao Women's Union (LWU) began in 2000, recognising the need for vocational training courses for poverty reduction, based on the successful APHEDA program in Cambodia. Focussing on Vientiane Capital and Luang Prabang Provinces, an AusAID funded phase constructed vocational training centres and developed accredited curriculum. The project has continued beyond the AusAID funding and continues to support capacity building of the Women's Union, support for running courses and curriculum development and updating. It is also shifting focus as a result of an MOU with the LWU that will move phase down activities in urban areas to focus on rural poor, including in Luang Prabang and Xiengkhouang.
Union Aid Abroad - APHEDA has worked with the Lao Federation of Trade Unions since 2004 primarily in the field of occupational health and safety and workplace HIV interventions, especially in mega-project construction, wood processing and hospitality but increasingly in capacity development, collective bargaining and donor coordination.
Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA also began working in education through the prism of Decent Work for teachers through a partnership with Pakse Teacher Training College in 2010. This program focuses on supporting teachers to increase education quality.
Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA has maintained a country office in Vientiane since 2002.
Decent Work: Key Issues and Concerns
The workers of Lao PDR still have significant challenges before the objectives of Decent Work are realised. Occupational health and safety remains a significant challenge, with Lao PDR recording a rate of fatal occupational injuries more than nine times Australia's - well above neighbouring countries such as Thailand and China. The lack of a rigorous OH&S system means that the real figures are likely much more than this. Growth industries such as construction and tourism have specific risks that need to be addressed, including HIV risks.
The majority of the workforce in Lao PDR are not in waged employment and are isolated from economic opportunities. An opening up of economic opportunities within the Decent Work paradigm is essential - this will require a triparties response encompassing government regulation, corporate social responsibility and a strong and capable trade union movement. The government sets the minimum wage but current minimum wage cannot be considered a living wage under the Decent Work agenda. Unemployment is officially low, with youth unemployment especially much lower than the Asian average, but this is probably masked by the very high proportion of the population listed as engaging in subsistence agriculture.
Gender equality in the workforce remains better than most neighbouring countries. Gender equality in the workforce is protected by law and there are many prominent examples of women occupying prominent civil service positions. There, of course, remains much work to be done. It is estimated that women's income ratio compared to men is 0.76, which while not yet parity is significantly higher than most other developing countries. Child and other forms of exploitative labour remain problematic but are illegal under Laotian law and are not considered a significant problem.
The LFTU is influenced heavily by the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour (VGCL), the unitary federation in Vietnam and has followed the trend set by VGCL in expanding expertise in dispute resolution, enterprise bargaining, occupational health and safety etc. but to a much more limited and cautious degree. There are approximately 4600 enterprise level unions in Laos as of 2008, all of which are required to be affiliated to and approved by the Lao Federation of Trade Unions.
Labour migration remains a significant issue in Lao PDR. Large amounts of unskilled labour leaves Laos, primarily for Thailand, each year while there remains significant gaps for skilled labour within Laos PDR (especially on the large construction sites) which are generally filled by Vietnamese or Chinese workers. Most Lao workers who work outside their country do so illegally and are subject to significant risks of exploitation, unsafe work practices and HIV.
Asbestos is a present and increasing issue in Lao PDR. There are several asbestos roofing factories and the country imports a significant number of asbestos products from neighbouring countries. Lao PDR currently has no regulations on any form of asbestos and it is likely there are significant asbestos reserves in the mountains of the North of the country.
Strengths of APHEDA Lao PDR Program
Weaknesses of APHEDA Lao PDR Program
Opportunities for APHEDA Lao PDR Program
Threats for APHEDA Lao PDR Program
Other programs, by other ITUC DCN, Solidar agencies
Several global union federations are working with Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA to support the LFTU such as Building and Woodworkers International, Union Network International and the Swedish Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). There are no other significant ITUC, DCN or Solidar agency work, beside a large Norwegian People's Aid program focussed on demining.
Recent & current Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA projects
Planned program areas to be developed in 2011 - 2014
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