Vientiane, 5 April 2016
Last week the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare in Lao PDR, in partnership with the World Health Organization took steps to improve the country's occupational health and safety laws by holding a review meeting with stakeholders from the government, the Federation of Trade Unions, the National Chamber of Commerce and development partners to review the current regulations.
A large percentage of Lao PDR’s formally employed workers rely on semi-subsistence agriculture and do not earn enough to lift themselves out of poverty. Photo: UNDP Lao PDR
The push for a review comes after a new Prime Ministerial Decree to protect the health, safety and well-being of Lao PDR's growing workforce. Occupational health and safety deals with all aspects of health, safety and well-being in the workplace, with a focus on primary prevention of preventable hazards to protect workers.
Speaking at the meeting, Mr Khamkharn Phinsavanh, of the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare said that,
"It is important we protect the health and safety of our workers in the workplace. The strategy in place for 2016-2020 is in line with the Prime Ministerial Decree that calls for a set of regulatory frameworks on occupational health and safety standards that workplaces must comply with."
The World Health Organisation in Lao PDR is providing technical advice and expertise to support the Government of Lao PDR in developing the regulations. As part of this programme of support, Professor Ken Takahashi, the Director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center for Occupational Health contributed to the meeting and stressed that, "Basic occupational health service is important for resource-scarce workplaces, such as small to medium sized enterprises, the self-employed and informal sectors to protect worker's health and safety".
Calls to better protect the country's workforce have strengthened in recent years, as Lao PDR's workforce has grown to service the fast expanding economy, increasing at seven to eight per cent annually. The agriculture and fisheries sectors dominate Lao PDR's workforce, accounting for 70 per cent of the formal workforce in 2010. Emerging sectors such as education, health and tourism, as well as extractive industries in energy, agro-forestry and mining make up the rest of the formal work force.
Despite this economic growth and low rate of formal unemployment, the country's share of vulnerable employed people remains high, with those working in the informal sector, such as own-account workers and unpaid family or domestic workers, constituting 84 per cent of the total working population.
In total, over one third of formally and informally employed people in Lao PDR do not earn enough to lift themselves out of poverty and are vulnerable to hazardous working conditions, low pay and poor benefits.
Hazards in the workplace often result in accidents, contracting and spreading of diseases, hearing loss, stress related disorders and all too often death. Globally, according to the International Labour Organization, about 5,000 people die from workplace accidents and occupational diseases each day.
The Prime Ministerial Decree on management of occupational health and safety has been developed with the aim of protecting all workers, especially vulnerable workers like pregnant women, migrants and older people, so that they have equal benefits, as well as strengthening workplace policies and enforcement under law.
"The Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare will ensure that an appropriate level of enforcement will be in place, we are strengthening the workplace health inspection and we will also work with other related ministries and institutions in the country to ensure it is enforced," Mr Khamkharn said.
Speaking at the meeting, Dr Eunyoung Ko, Project Officer from the World Health Organization in Lao PDR, outlined the work ahead and the growing need for improving occupational health and safety, "We will work with the government to address the gaps, challenges, and essential occupational health and safety services."
"The health, safety and well-being of the workers should not be compromised and this push comes at an opportune time as the country continues to grow and we will see more young and rural people joining the workforce," said Dr Eunyoung.
Occupational health and safety regulations will help to protect Lao PDR's workers from hazards in the workplace, which often result in accidents and death. Photo: UNDP Lao PDR / Stanislas Fradelizi