TRIANGLE in ASEAN – Lao People’s Democratic Republic

The ILO TRIANGLE in ASEAN is a partnership between the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), the Global Affairs Canada (GAC), and the International Labour Organization (ILO). TRIANGLE in ASEAN delivers technical assistance and support with the overall goal of maximizing the contribution of labour migration to equitable, inclusive and stable growth in ASEAN.

Programme objectives

TRIANGLE in ASEAN has the overall goal of maximizing the contribution of labour migration to equitable, inclusive and stable growth in ASEAN. It builds on the activities, relationships and processes established under previous phases of the programme.

Programme outcomes

  • Protection: Migrant workers are better protected by labour migration governance frameworks;
  • Development: Policies and programmes harness the potential of women and men migrant workers to contribute to economic and social development and
  • Mobility: Labour mobility systems are gender-responsive and increase the efficiency of labour markets in the ASEAN region.

Labour migration

While economic growth and especially foreign direct investment in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) has been increasing, poverty reduction has been slower than in other ASEAN Member States. GDP growth has averaged seven per cent over the past decade, largely based on exploitation of natural resources (water, minerals, and forests) rather than a more diversified economy or a transition out of agricultural and subsistence employment. Consequently, labour migration remains an important livelihood option for the Lao workforce, including increasing numbers of Lao women.

It is estimated that there are 1.3 million Lao nationals living abroad, of whom 54 per cent are women (UNDESA, 2017). Patterns of migration in Lao PDR are complex, including both inbound and outbound flows of migrant workers. Thailand is the largest destination country for Lao migrants, primarily driven by wage differentials – the current monthly minimum wage in Lao is LAK900,000 (around US$110) and the Thai minimum is more than double this amount. Lao migrant workers in Thailand are predominantly employed in domestic work, construction, manufacturing, agriculture, and entertainment work, mainly in neighbouring border provinces and larger cities. Financial remittances from migrant workers are a significant source of income within Lao PDR. An estimated US$149 million in remittances was received in 2018 (World Bank, 2018).

Although a major sector of employment in Thailand, the migration of Lao women abroad for domestic work occurs outside of formal channels. Confusion remains over the legality of Lao women migrating for domestic work due to ambiguities in the Labour Law and associated decrees that restrict movement of Lao workers into jobs that are considered unskilled, offer few learning opportunities or are contrary to cultural traditions. Many migrants could potentially be affected by this provision as the majority of Lao migrant workers are employed in unskilled or low-skilled positions.

The latest Memorandum of Understanding between Thailand and Lao PDR was signed in 2016, broadening a previous agreement on labour migration to include cooperation on social security and skills development. Only a small number of Lao migrant workers migrated under the previous MOU because of the high fees, slow process, and administrative complexity involved. Even though the maximum costs payable for recruitment have been established in law, it has been reported that recruitment agencies often charge higher amounts. In addition, the lack of clarity about the legality of regular recruitment and placement for domestic workers is thought to be a key limiting factor for women migrants to make use of the MOU process.

There are 27 recruitment agencies in Lao PDR, with 24 of them permitted to send Lao migrant workers abroad. While some regulations on the operation of these agencies exist, it is accepted that the legislative framework requires further amendment and specificity to effectively manage this sector. Further subordinate legislation to support the application of the 2014 Labour Law remains under development.

For further information please contact:

Mr Vongtavanh Sayavong
National Project Coordinator (NPC) for Lao PDR
Tel.: +856 20 7777 8421
Email: sayavong@ilo.org