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Lao workers in Thailand Legalized

May 28, 2006

Over 60 Lao workers will take up legal employment in food processing factories in southern Thailand at the end of May 2006.

This is part of efforts by the Lao PDR and Thai governments to address problems in legalising workers currently in Thailand. The governments are seeking to protect workers’ rights and ensure that they are paid the same as Thai workers.

Acting Director General of the Labour Department of the Labour and Social Welfare Ministry, Mr. Sounchanh Phommachak, said that this was the second group of Lao workers to cross the border legally.

The first group of 90 workers went to Thailand a few months ago, and are now working in jobs that pay at least 150 baht a day - the same as their Thai counterparts are earning. They are also getting social insurance.

The workers will be sent by eight recruitment agencies, which have made contracts with various factories in Thailand. Mr. Sounchanh said that his ministry planned to send several thousand Lao workers to take up jobs legally in Thailand each year. He hoped that the project would encourage the 180,000 people already working in Thailand to come back to Laos in order to register in the new legal process.

The governments of Laos and Thailand signed a Memorandum of Understanding on labour cooperation in 2002 in Luang Prabang province, aiming to legalise the 180,000 Lao workers currently working in Thailand. It will also ensure that workers can work there legally in the future. The memorandum ultimately aims to make it easy for the Thai authorities to acquire and manage Lao workers in Thailand.

The MOU has been successfully implemented during the course of this year, which means that more Lao workers can now enter Thailand legally.

Prior to this, the implementation of the MOU met with some difficulties. For example, the two authorities agreed to issue temporary passports for the 180,000 workers, but after more than 6,000 were issued, the Thai authorities said that Lao workers could not be recognised, as Thai labour laws prevent the employment of unskilled workers.

Now, the Thai government has adjusted its law to recognise unskilled workers and temporary passports have been issued for Lao workers. Around 50,000 passports have been issued, authorising Lao workers to stay in Thailand temporarily until they return to Laos to get permanent passports. The authorities of both countries meet annually to review the progress of the implementation of the MOU. This year, the meeting will be held in Thailand.

Lao officials said Thai businesspeople were keen to employ Lao workers because their language and culture were similar and, most importantly, Lao workers were regarded as honest and hardworking.

1 Adapted from: Vientiane Times. 8 May 2006. (Source: UNIAP Thailand).

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