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
  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
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.

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