Many of the industries in the Greater Mekong Subregion, namely Burma, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand, Yunnan Province of China and Vietnam, rely heavily on the work of migrants. Despite migrant workers being the backbone of social and economic development of the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS), they continue to be denied the protection of essential benefits and rights. Recently, there has been increased discussion among GMS governments and civil society concerning collaborating in their responses towards labour migration. In part, governments’ motivation for this new approach reflects their vision of economic integration of countries in the region. On the other hand, civil society’s concerns lie with the quality of life of migrants.

While the protection of the rights of migrant workers is often spoken of during such discussions, the general lack of understanding about the labour standards in the neighboring countries in the GMS often makes it unclear exactly which labour standards the policy discussions are referring to.

It is essential to gain an understanding of the labour protections available to migrant workers according to each GMS country’s national labour laws for two main reasons: firstly, to enable policy makers and advocates to have informed discussions about labour protection; and secondly, to strengthen bilateral and/or regional collaboration and coordination in promoting and protecting the rights of migrant workers.

The Handbook on Labour Protection in the GMS is a concise guide to understanding labour standards according to the national labour laws in the GMS countries. Labour protection has been classified into 14 key elements. Relevant international laws are also included. The Mekong Migration Network has active partners working with Burmese migrants, as well as contacts with academics and practitioners located in Burma. However, throughout this project it unfortunately proved largely impossible to find complete up-to-date information on Burmese labour laws. We understand that in recent years some efforts have been made by the Burmese government to draft new labour laws, however these laws have not yet been made public at the time of finalizing this publication. Many of the laws which are available for viewing date from the colonial period, and there is no information available indicating whether or not these laws are still in force/ current or not. While successive military regimes have issued orders rescinding or replacing laws, it is difficult to follow these changes and permutations throughout the life-spans of these laws. For these reasons, the sections on Burma are often sadly lacking in concrete information. We apologise for this information gap, in addition to apologising particularly in the event that such laws do exist but we have been unable to locate them. It has been reported that a new labour law - signed on 11 October 2011 by President Thein Sein - contains positive elements, such as allowing workers to form unions and to strike. At the time of going to press this piece of legislation was not publicly available. If and when it becomes available, the MMN plans to upload the updated information onto its homepage.

We hope that in addition to promoting understanding of existing labour standards in the region that this handbook will also help migrant advocates to identify relevant labour laws that they can then use in responding to labour rights abuses. Readers are however encouraged to verify the current status of laws in question and to seek legal advice where necessary.

This handbook has been prepared as part of a project entitled: “Mekong Vocabulary on Labour Migration – promoting a common language understanding in the region and building a regional network for safe migration in the (GMS),” which is supported by the Toyota Foundation Asian Neighbors Program. This project aims to fill an information gap by increasing common understanding of vocabulary. As an outcome of the project the handbook Speaking of Migration : Mekong Vocabulary on Migration has also been published, which includes approximately 120 terms on migration issues translated into Burmese, Chinese, Khmer, Lao, Thai and Vietnamese. As a companion handbook to Speaking of Migration, this Handbook on Labour Protection in the GMS has been developed. MMN believes that all workers - including migrant workers - must be afforded equal labour protection. We hope that in the future this booklet will become a useful reference tool for those advocating for the realisation of optimum labour protection for all workers in the GMS.

The Mekong Migration Network (MMN) is a sub-regional network of civil society organisations working for the rights of migrants in the Greater Mekong Subregion. Many of our member organizations employ legally trained staff who routinely assist migrant workers pursue their labour rights through the courts. We work together for the full recognition and promotion of the human rights of all migrant workers and their families in the Mekong. The list of members is in the appendix of the handbook. For details of MMN activities, please visit

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