Monday, October 13, 2014

New labour law in Laos makes it not much easier for foreigners

Today I just got a copy of the new Lao labour law, that was in discussion for quite a while and is now approved. While the official version is in Laos, an unofficial English version was spread in social media and by international organisations and companies.

In general it protects the rights of workers, even states the right of set working hours and sick leave days, but also has some articles about foreigners. One is that the work of foreigners is limited to 5 years in total, but there is a way to extend for managers and specialists.

Most important are the following articles:

Article 68 (Revised) Acceptance of Foreign Labor
Employers have the duty, when creating a staffing plan within a labor unit, to give priority
to Lao labor. However, if the demand for labor cannot be supplied by Lao nationals, the
employer has the right to request the use of foreign labor.
The ratio of acceptance of foreign labor within a labor unit must be as follows:
  1. 1. Fifteen percent of the total number of Lao laborers within a labor unit for technica experts undertaking physical labor;
  1. 2. Twenty-five percent of the total number of Lao laborers within a labor unit for technical experts undertaking mental labor.
For large projects, priority projects of the government spanning five years or under, the
use of foreign labor will be in accordance with the contract between the project owner and the government.
For foreign employees, according to professions that can be undertaken in participation
with any country, namely countries within Southeast Asia if any, they must comply with specific legislation. 
Foreign labor working in the Lao PDR will be protected and administered in accordance
with this law and other relevant regulations of the Lao PDR.

Article 69 (New) Rights and Obligations of Foreign LaborForeign workers have the following rights:
  1. Legal protection according to the laws of the Lao PDR;
  1. Equal performance to Lao labor when undertaking the same work at the same standard
  1. of labor and under the same work conditions, including salary or wages.
Foreign labor has the following obligations:
1. Respect for the laws and customs of Laos;
2. Plans for capacity building in technical knowledge among Lao workers;
3. Pay income taxes in accordance with the law;
4. Exit the Lao PDR within fifteen days after the expiration of a working contract.

Article 70 (New) Rights and Obligations of Labor Units
In the administration of foreign labor, labor units have the following rights and
obligations:
  1. Advise foreign labor in complying with the laws and customs of Laos;
  1. Create an appropriate plan for capacity building and submit the plan to the Labor Administration Agency;
  1. Facilitate the exit of foreign labor from the Lao PDR upon the expiration of the employment contract and return the work permit to the Labor Administration Agency 

On of the scary parts is the creation of a capacity building plan. It isn't mention what that means specifically. You will find mentions about minimum wage, numbers of holiday and sick leave, the role of unions and the Labor Fund in the law as well.


Regarding the age of workers, the law states:


Employers may accept employees under the age of eighteen years but not younger than
fourteen years; however, they are prohibited from working overtime.
When necessary, the employer may accept and use youth employees under the age of
fourteen, but not younger than twelve years, and must ensure the work is light work such as:
1. Work that will not negatively impact the body, psychology or mind;
2. Work that will not obstruct attendance of school, professional guidance or vocational
training.
The list of light work is specified separately

While quickly browsing through it it looks pretty straight forward  and I couldn't find any major loopholes for now. In general, laws are one thing in Laos and implementation and enforcement another. As a foreigner generally expect having no rights at all, and usually courts deciding against you. It is still an authoritarian communist country that doesn't have the civilised and developed justice system of western countries, although on paper it sometimes may look like.

You can download the PDF with the English version here.

The Lao version is available here.



Tuesday, March 11, 2014

So, Vientianale, you did it again?

When I watched the winning movies from the 1st Vientianale, I was surprised that one of them use music that was for sure not self-made. It was actually from one of the biggest film score companies, and it was used without permission. That can happen, Laos isn't the frontrunner of copyright and intellectual property. So I quietly informed the organisers that there is an issue. What I got in response was not what I was expected. They blamed me as the messenger of bad news, asked me basically to shut up and kind of accused me to do harm to such a wonderful project. Yes, the Vientianale is a wonderful project, so wonderful that I participated in 2013, and even won the second prize. (I created the score by myself, thanks to software that makes it easier these days). So I was eagerly looking for this years participants and was happy to see the winner published on Facebook. Today I watched the second winner "Lost in the shadow" by Nirankoon Singpraseuth and Khampa Phimmachack, a short movie that might be the first in Laos to use CGI in this extend. Although far from Hollywood standards, I like it how they played with it and created a reasonable story. What struck me was the score: This IS Hollywood standard. It is actually made for Hollywood: The credits mention Batman and Snowwhite (not even the composers, just the movie names). The Vientianale organisers know about the problem with music and score. And they must have heard it when they watched the movie. No way this is done in Laos. It seems, they just don't care. And this shows that they understand film making in the wrong way. A movie is not just something you film with your camera. It requires a script, actors, sound and light crew, cameraman and director, producers, etc etc. And someone who takes care of the score. There are enough open sound and music archives, where you can get music and sound for free. What signals sends it when someone who stole the music not only gets away with it but gets awarded? First of all, nobody in Laos will do any efforts to create their own score and music. They cannot compete with what is just downloaded from the internet. Sound is more important than picture, because a bad sound ruins any movie, while people forgive shaky cameras and blurry screens. I expect again complains from the organisers about my criticism, since it is more important that everyone is happy than to follow the rules and educate Lao filmmakers in international standards. Below the first and third prize:

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Lao Airlines Crash in Pakse

It is the morning after the horrific news and I am still shocked. All passengers and crew members of the Lao Airlines flight from Vientiane to Pakse on October 16th died will the plane crashed in what the airline calls bad weather conditions. The teen daughter of a friend of mine was on that plane. She was on the way to Vietnam - she just had received a scholarship to study.

Lao Airlines doesn't have a bad record, and the ATR Turbo prop planes are safe and widely used in regional flights. Australian News quoted an expert who said Lao Airlines did not participate in international safety audits.

 I actually like it to fly with an ATR. The route to Pakse isn't particular difficult and the pilots are used to it. What comes into account this time was the bad weather. Tropical Storm Nari just hit Vietnam and was effecting Laos as well (but storms like this are usual as well).

Again, it isn't per se a reason to postpone all flights. But Lao Airlines cancels actually a lot of flights frequently, for several reasons. Weather is one, in particular in the south. Mining people can tell you how many times they have to use the bus because the flight were cancelled. So the question will remain, why this flight was considered safe.

The competence about flying in Laos declines within the hierarchy. That means pilots, crew and ground staff are the most competent workers, while the top management both within the airline, but also within the ministry of transportation, doesn't have a lot of skills when it comes to flying. A friend with a pilot licence once told me there isn't one person with a flying licence working in the ministry.

It is actually a miracle that Laos has just a clean record, and everyone was actually wondering why there were not accidents. Maybe because of the experienced pilots, maybe because of the limited numbers of flights. The frequency is increasing, and this increases the risk of an accident.

I hope that Laos will follow international regulations regarding the investigation of the crash. Pictures showed that the scene was kind of secured with ropes, but I wouldn't be surprised when the hundreds of spectators took debris and/or valuables they found. There is always something to learn from a crash, and thats why a proper investigation is so important. Not to blame someone in the first place, but to know why. That is also important to know for the families of those who lost their lifes.

There are some rather disturbing news that Lao authorities want to cremate all bodies before the buddhist lent ceremonies start on the weekend. I wonder how foreign families will react to this - but maybe foreigners are excluded.


My thoughts are with the families who lost there loved ones.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Science Show on radio in Laos!

Science isn't something that comes into ones mind when thinking about Laos. The countrys number of patents is very low - close to zero - and universities focus more on communist ideas and Lao culture than providing knowledge. The Lao education system isn't encouraging young people to be curious - it's more a shut up and write down what I just told you policy.

But this is going to change. One man seems to have enough of the lack of science news and just took things in his own hands. Virasak Viravong is a IT teacher, who is also quite interested in science himself.
So a few months ago he decided to just set up a facebook page and start posting science news. "I think Science it's very hard for general people to understanding but it's very interesting and fun. so I try to share about info that i read, listen, watch... to Laos people by created a Facebook Page name "ວິທະຍາສາດ" (facebook.com/laosci) for write a short article about Science (short, easy to read and easy to understand)", he told me via Facebook message.

 The success is already there. "I started my facebook page on 14 feb 2013 to now I've 2,800 people like the page", he counts. But it goes even further: "In July Vientiane radio Fm98.8MHz (Butterfly Radio) staff saw my page and contracted me for bring science to a radio program name "Science Talk" with the slogan "science is not something distant".

 "Science Talk" is on air every Mon-Sat, starts from 9pm to 10pm at FM98.8MHz (Vientiane Radio) with various topics such as healthy, biology, physic, Astronomy, technology, scientist biography, etc. For me this is just an amazing thing to see. I always believed (and still do) that people should take education and sharing of knowledge into their own hands. Virasak (nickname Mee) is also part of the Barcamp organizers team, and maybe it was there when he saw that you don't need superiors or much of an institution to share knowledge.

 Of course I asked him if the program is already available as podcast, but he told be the radio station doesn't even record it. But he may think about doing it himself.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Lao - NZ movie looking for initial funding

Sometimes you support friends even if you still have questions left. But I believe in the talent of Anysay Keola and the power of Vannaphone Sitthirath so please support this project!!! Heart People is an exciting international collaboration between a collective of filmmakers from New Zealand and Laos PDR. They aim to produce a heartfelt and dramatic story of the human spirit - set in the dangerous underworld of illegal logging and mining in the picturesque provence of Xiengkhouang, Laos.
We share a love of filmmaking and are joining forces to create something special and unique. We are looking at getting this project up and running in two stages. Stage 1: research and development of the story Stage 2: Sourcing production and post production funding. We are being realistic about this process and certainly won't be looking to Boosted to fund the production of this film. We are turning to Boosted for stage 1 only.
Twitter: @heartpeoplefilm Facebook: www.facebook.com/heartpeoplefilm Crowdfunding site: http://www.boosted.org.nz/projects/heart-people

Monday, July 15, 2013

Another goodbye, this time from the Animal Rescue Center

When we moved to Bangkok, I was quite sad to leave the Animal Rescue Center behind. Although I wasn't legally in charge and just doing some PR work, I was emotionally involved. It was always a dream to support, or even run a center like this. So I was quite happy that Trevor Freeman told me he wants to open one. It took a while to find a suitable place, and even longer to set up at least basic infrastructure there. When I left Laos, it was just good enough to take in emergency cases (it has changed over time, facilities are much better). But there was always some disagreement about priorities. While I was insisting it is a rescue center, the owners were focussing on the commercial part, the dog hotel. It made some sense, since donations were really low, and the dog hotel brought some income. Also, I didn't like the way the hotel dogs were kept, most of the time on a leash or in a small cage, and adressed this before we left Laos. It seems now that the Rescue part totally failed. There are some kittens, but thats it. The focus is now on not only the hotel, but also breeding, something I never wanted (the first puppies I was told were an accident. Now I know it was intentional). I don't think that money went into the wrong channels. As you can see at the center, a lot of work was done. Also, Foxy, the small dog who didn't make it and the kittens needed medical care, that doesn't come for free. But, I never had an insight to the accounting books. Beside the "you can see whenever you want" no other action was taken to actually show me the numbers. Still, I believe that the donations were used for the center (I know it at least for the time when I was still there). But I think the focus shifted from a rescue center to a business (what it is formally, a company, but that was done to set it up quickly and not having some greedy officials sitting next to you). Recent developments and the way they were handled by the owner and manager of the center raised concerns. Doubts came about integrity, but also about my role. It doesn't make sense to be involved in something when you only have to execute. So I decided to leave this project. It is up to you, dear reader, to support the center or not. But before you do it, go there, have a look by yourself, and ask what the money is specifically used for. Just to get a better picture. Or insist on the use of the money. Laos doesn't have a center like this, and it needs one. The US Embassy support the WWF Wildlife Center with 50.000 USD, while the LARC never got a single dollar from them. Dogs are left to die when they are sick in Laos, and that should not be the case. Also, we just had not enough money to start educational programs. I know that Paws4thoughts are working on that, and wish them Good Luck with it.