Reality Check!

Reality Check!

We hope that this booklet will provide a useful reference tool for readers to quickly familiarize themselves with existing labour standards in any one country in the Mekong, or to compare labour standards in different countries, as well as an advocacy tool to upgrade and standardise working conditions in the countries of the Mekong. However, we dare not leave you with the impression that because comprehensive labour laws exist, that workersroutinuely recive their protection, and are living and working comfortably. Unfortunately, this is not the case in any of the countries of the Mekong. The reality is much more harsh. The labour laws are good on paper, however that is often where they stay. There remain a major problems when it comes to implementation and this increases exponentially in relation to to migrant workers.

In some instances, labour laws are not well implemented due to a lack of information, trained personnel or equipment. In others, a lack of implementation stems from the conflict of interest that arise when Trade Unions are controlled directly or indirectly by the government and do not want to confront the government when a labour dispute arises. In particular, there exists a bad case of ‘labour rights blindness’ as far as migrant workers are concerned: blatant abuses happen for all to see, but are largely ignored.

Workers throughout the region face similar problems, including underpayment of wages, unfair dismissal, excessive working hours, exposure to hazardous working conditions, and a lack of qualified doctors to diagnose occupational diseases and illnesses. This list could go on; and ironically, it would appear remarkably similar to the index of our book.

Nonetheless, we still have faith that the law can be effective, that there can be increased political will to protect the lives of the millions of people, often young people, who work in manual labour and the service industry in the Mekong. However, at the same time we also know that it is not enough to place our trust purely in the law and that a more holistic approach is needed to improve labour conditions.

Thus, we work to increase the implementation and efficiency of labour laws by working together with trade unions, and by bringing migrant and host workers together to lobby for freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.

We also call for greater technical advice to be offered to governments so that they can ensure compliance with labour legislation. We hope that different departments concerned with labour rights will work in greater cooperation and coordination for the benefit of workers’ rights. We also see a place for increased capacity building of labour inspectors, and an increased budget that would see a greater number of labour inspectors employed.

We will also continue to work at the grassroots level with migrant workers to inform them of their labour rights, so that they are empowered to advocate for increased implementation of existing labour laws across the Mekong.

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