Vientiane Times, 2 Feb, 2013
Companies that have set up rubber plantations in Laos should improve the pay and conditions for workers, as many of the families working on these plantations are still earning very low incomes, a labour official has suggested. This situation runs contrary to the reason that concessions are granted, the justification being that they will provide gainful employment and improve the lives of local villagers.
However, the realities are different. Many workers have no job security or stable employment prospects because most are paid only on a daily or piecemeal basis for the time that they actually work and do not receive a regular salary. Some workers are paid for each hectare of trees they tap, while others are paid for each kilo of sap they collect.
Champsassak provincial Labour and Social Welfare Department authority, Mr Onsa Vongsamphan, told Vientiane Times on Thursday “We will try to find out why local people get low incomes from these projects and then we will join with the district and provincial trade unions to request that the investors improve the situation.” Some of the Vietnamese companies that own plantations in the southern provinces are now starting to tap the mature trees, but workers are still earning a very low wage, local authorities say.
The investment documents and memorandums of understanding drawn up between investors and the government state that rubber projects should provide secure jobs for local people, while helping to improve their living conditions and easing their poverty. The provincial authorities are now collecting information to assess whether these projects are complying with the agreements they signed and how local people can benefit from the projects or whether problems have arisen.
Lao labourers are paid an average of about two million kip or 8,000 baht a month, but some Thai contract labourers can make 20,000 to 30,000 baht a month, Mr Onsa said. Many Lao workers are experienced in planting and maintaining rubber trees, especially tapping the rubber, so there would be no need for overseas labour if they could earn a decent wage, he noted. Each year, the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare directs each provincial Labour and Social Welfare Department to provide training for rubber plantation workers, but due to budget constraints they can only train 40-50 workers a year, Mr Onsa said.
However, many people have improved their skills on the job whilst working with the companies, Mr Onsa said. There are still concerns as to whether there will be sufficient labour when a large number of plantations mature and are ready to tap in the next few years. Currently, there are still a lot of Lao workers working on rubber plantations, and a small number of Vietnamese technical advisors running them, he said. Provincial Departments of Labour and Social Welfare aim to ensure the workers are properly paid and that there will be sufficient Lao workers to meet future demand.
Some people in neighbouring Attapeu province are leaving rubber plantations to take up more profitable work, according to the provincial Labour and Social Welfare Department. Investors have already planted about 300,000 hectares of rubber in total, while some farms are owned by local people.