Vientiane Times, March 06, 2015
The work performance and protection of workers will soon be upgraded in the wood processing sector with a one-year project known as “Improving Occupational Safety and Health at Wood Processing Sector and Timber Legality Definition”. The project will be led by the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare at the end of 2015 in the framework of the FLEGT (Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade) initiative it was announced at a recent meeting in Vientiane. The meeting brought together 40 key participants from relevant departments from line ministries, Lao Federation of Trade Unions, Lao National Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Lao Furniture Association, Lao Timber Processing Industry Association, other private sector and relevant agencies to gain an understanding of the contents and objectives of the project.
“It is necessary to improve occupational health and safety for workers at their workstation environment in the wood processing sector, as it is perceived to be one of the sectors with a high risk of work accidents and occupational diseases. Most of the Lao labour force being offered jobs are poor people equipped with limited education who might have little knowledge on how to prevent and protect themselves against unsafe work practices”, Deputy Director General of the Labour Management Department Mr Phetsavang Sounnalath said. By engaging in the FLEGT process, the nation would contribute to the process of defining timber legality as part of the current negotiations between the Lao PDR and the European Union (EU) on a Voluntary Partnership Agreement for FLEGT to promote a legal timber trade and sustainable forest management, he added.
“The legality of timber definition goes beyond timber harvesting, but includes the entire wood supply chain from the forest to export of the timber products,” said Mr Heiko Woerner, senior international adviser of the GIZ support project to the Lao EU-FLEGT process (ProFLEGT).
It extended to cover health and safety of employees and their families, minimum age established for persons involved in hazardous work, formal contract creation, fairly paid and treated in conformity with national law and international conventions, and the like, he added. The legal definition of timber forms an important component of Timber Legality Assurance Systems that are part of Voluntary Partnership Agreements. VPAs are trade agreements between the EU and timber producing countries, aiming to promote legal logging and its associated trade. The partnerships ensure that only legal timber products enter the EU market, promote good forest governance and law enforcement in the producing countries and take into account social and broader environmental considerations. Laos is one of the countries that has started to negotiate a Voluntary Partnership Agreement, a trade agreement with the European Union, with assistance from the ProFLEGT