Labour migration

ILO report reveals the challenges and precarity experienced by many Lao migrant workers

New research sheds light on the key issues faced by Lao migrant workers and outlines measures to help ensure they can migrate more safely and obtain decent work.

Press release | Vientiane, Lao People's Democratic Republic | 31 August 2023
Lao woman worker at a garment factory, Lao People's Democratic Republic. © Jean‐Pierre Pellissier/ILO
VIENTIANE (ILO News) – Labour migration remains a risky proposition for many migrant workers in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic due to a high prevalence of labour rights violations and their lack of access to adequate support services.

A new report entitled, Precarious pathways: Migration patterns and service needs of Lao migrant workers uncovers the key challenges faced by Lao migrant workers, contributing to a better understanding of how to expand safe migration opportunities.

In the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, labour migration has long been an essential livelihood strategy, with more than 1.35 million Lao migrants living abroad, over half of whom are women. In recent years, labour migration governance in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic is becoming increasingly formalized. An emerging migration infrastructure is being established based upon recruitment through private employment agencies.

However, implementation of this governance framework remains a major challenge and many of the stipulations of the new laws and regulations have yet to be realized in practice. Lao workers continue to migrate for work largely though irregular channels due to the high costs, long duration and considerable complexity of the regular process. There remains a lack of sufficient incentives for migrant workers to make use of the more formalized migration procedures that have been established.

Lao women migrant workers commonly face compounding discrimination during the migration process based upon their gender and nationality. Moreover, women migrants often have fewer decent work opportunities and less access to services in destination countries, partially as a result of the limited regular channels for migration available to them. Upon returning home, Lao women migrants more frequently experience unemployment and end up dropping out of the workforce.

The outcomes of migration are far from guaranteed for Lao migrant workers, with many experiencing exploitation and abuse. However, beneficial migration experiences can be achieved if Lao migrant workers are able to avoid high migration costs, benefit from labour rights protection and find gainful employment upon return.

Strengthening of the relevant regulatory systems and improving the quality of services provided will help to ensure that migration leads to opportunities for decent work that improve the lives of Lao migrants and their family members in the long-term.

"Migration can be a powerful force for development when migrant workers are treated fairly and have access to adequate support systems. The insights from this report will help inform policies and actions that enhance labour and social protection for Lao migrant workers and ensure that their migration experiences are safe and beneficial," said Oktavianto Pasaribu, Deputy Director, ILO Country Office for Thailand, Cambodia and Lao People's Democratic Republic.

The study is a collaborative effort between the ILO’s three regional migration programmes in South-East Asia – Ship to Shore Rights South East Asia, TRIANGLE in ASEAN and Safe and Fair – funded by the European Union (EU), Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Global Affairs Canada.

“As the situation of Lao migrant workers has been relatively under-researched in comparison to other migrant populations in South-East Asia, this study by the International Labour Organization helps to fill a key knowledge gap on the migration patterns and service needs. It presents valuable findings and recommendations that will be particularly useful for organizations working to expand safe migration in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic,” said EU Ambassador H.E. Ina Marčiulionytė.

Ship to Shore Rights South East Asia is an initiative of the EU and the UN, implemented by the ILO in collaboration with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), with the overall objective of promoting regular and safe labour migration and decent work for all migrant workers in the fishing and seafood processing sectors. The programme addresses the characteristics of working in the fishing and seafood processing sectors as well as the barriers and risks present during migration, which can lead to unsafe migration, decent work deficits, abuse and forced labour.

Safe and Fair: Realizing women migrant workers’ rights and opportunities in the ASEAN region is part of the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative to eliminate violence against women and girls, a global, multi-year initiative between the EU and UN. Safe and Fair is implemented through a partnership between the ILO and UN Women, in collaboration with UNODC, with the overriding objective of ensuring that labour migration is safe and fair for all women in the ASEAN region.

TRIANGLE in ASEAN programme is a part of the International Labour Organization’s global efforts to promote fair migration. Through delivery of technical assistance and support to governments, social partners, civil society and regional bodies, TRIANGLE in ASEAN creates policies, tools and services that enhance the contribution of labour migration to equitable and just societies. It is supported by the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and Global Affairs Canada (GAC).

For further information please contact:

Benjamin Harkins
Technical Officer
ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Pichit Phromkade
Communications Officer
ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific