By Oksana Abboud, StreetNet Organiser
On December 1-8, 2013 StreetNet International sent a delegation of five people to South East Asia (Mekong region) – to Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.
With assistance of OXFAM Belgium in Laos and in Vietnam, the agenda for StreetNet delegation was successfully implemented.
To expand StreetNet presence in the Mekong region, the delegation of five people was formed to visit South East Asia with the main purpose of the following:
- To check and, if possible, identify potential affiliates in Laos and Vietnam;
- To define how to collaborate in solidarity with the trade unions and other civil society organisations in Laos and Vietnam.
StreetNet delegation consisted of:
- Pat Horn (International Coordinator)
- Oksana Abboud (Organiser for Europe and Asia)
- Arbind Singh (NASVI National Coordinator)
- Anurag Shanker (Asian RFP Coordinator, NASVI Program Officer)
- Sam Orn Heng (IDEA Secretary General)
Delegation arrived in Phnom Penh (Cambodia) on December 1 to meet with StreetNet Affiliate IDEA and to attend the workshop “Build Network, Claim Our Rights”, organised by IDEA.
IDEA – Independent Democracy of Informal economy Association – is a trade union organisation which protects informal workers’ rights such as street vendors, domestic workers and Tuk Tuk drivers. Total membership is around 4900 members, 520 of whom are street vendors.
Since IDEA is a Trade union which unites Street vendors, Domestic workers and Tuk Tuk drivers, the representatives of all three sectors of informal economy attended the workshop (around 30 participants).
The Workshop was mainly focused on Organising and building a strong network among street vendors and informal workers.
Oksana Abboud, StreetNet Organiser presented StreetNet International, its structure, priorities and activity around the world;
Ms.Keo Chanrith, Organising Coordinator of IDEA focused on organising of street vendors in Cambodia, main challenges and mobilising.
Other speakers were concentrated on Organising strategies and participation of women in social change.
IDEA Secretary General introduced Social protection situation in Cambodia and IDEA’s plans to get social protection floor for all.
Mr. Arbind Singh, National Coordinator of National Association of Street Vendors of India (NASVI) focused his presentation on the issue of social protection for street vendors in India and the Law on Street Vending, which was recently passed by the Lower House of the Indian Parliament.
Each Panel discussion was followed by the questions and answers. The workshop participants actively asked the questions about collective bargaining negotiations, social protection, advocacy and legal aspects to be recognized by law.
At the end of the day the participants were divided into four groups and tasked to discuss in groups the topic “Why and how to organize street vendors”.
The presentations of working groups showed that IDEA members are willing to organise and to be organised as they want to build a strong union organisation in order to be recognised as workers and to have its voice everywhere while making national policy. They work in groups indicated that they have ability, knowledge and skills to organise other informal workers in Cambodia.
On December 3, StreetNet delegation met with IDEA staff in IDEA Office.
Since this meeting was attended by 4 vendors from different provinces of Cambodia, we had a good opportunity to ask them some questions focusing on challenges they face in their daily work. For instance, the crockery female vendor shared with us that she works seven days a week, selling her merchandise from 8 am till 8 pm earning around 2 USD per day.
Arbind Singh introduced the new Law on Street Vending in India, emphasizing main benefits for street vendors. However, he also underlined on a long struggle of Indian vendors to get this Law passed.
Pat Horn also indicated on issue of negotiation forums referring to the document – Model framework for a local collective bargaining system. She encouraged IDEA to start trying to establish such negotiation forums using the tips from the above mentioned document. Sam Orn agreed on importance of this document but said that he would need to translate it into local language to use it among IDEA members.
Asian Regional Focal Point was presented by Pat Horn and followed by Anurag Shanker who clearly specified the main responsibilities and tasks of RFP.
IDEA colleagues took the team to the working places of street vendors, who are selling their goods in the district of factories. The vendors we met encountered evictions as well as goods confiscation not only one time. However, after they joined IDEA, they are not scared to be evicted even when the police confiscate their goods. IDEA leadership solves the problems. Some of the street vendors heard from IDEA via radio as IDEA has its own radio program.
StreetNet delegation spent 3-5 December in Laos and conducted a lot of meetings with different organisations. They met with Mr. Symoune UONLASY, LFTU Vice-President and Member of Parliament.
LFTU – is the only Trade union Federation in the country, comprised of local unions uniting around 180 000 members.
At the beginning of the meeting Pat Horn briefed Vice-President about StreetNet structure and main purpose of the visit to Laos.
Mr. Symoune described the LFTU structure, its main working directions and tough cooperation with Government. He also briefly described the situation with informal economy and growing number of informal workers in Laos, however, lack of legislation on informal workers prevents LFTU to deal with such category of workers.
After this meeting we met with Mr.Khampasong, Program manager of Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA
Australian People for Health, Education and Development Abroad (APHEDA) was created in 1984 as the overseas aid agency of the Australian Council of Trade Unions.
Mr.Khampasong SIHARATH told us about APHEDA and its structure around the world. Currently APHEDA has Offices in 15 countries and mainly operates in Asia-Pacific region and Middle East.
Pat Horn raised the topic of cross-border traders and Mr. Khampasong confirmed that there are a lot of cross-border traders in Laos mainly from Thailand and other neighboring countries and majority of whom are young people.
StreetNet delegation had a meeting with Ms. Khongchay VIXATHEP, Urban Program Coordinator of CARE International CARE International in Laos has both urban and rural programs. It just recently started to think about informal sector issue and decided to make some research jointly with LFTU on informal workers, starting from domestic workers sector.
StreetNet also met with Mr. Khanthone PHAMUANG, President of the Environment Conservation and Community Development Association (ECCDA).
Mr. Khanthone shortly explained about historical background of his organisation, which was registered as Non-profit Organisation in 2003. Main focus of the organisation was on microfinances and women issues. It also provided trainings on how to get income in family. However since 2012 till nowadays the organization doesn’t have any funds to provide any activity.
Mr. Khanthone currently works as a consultant for Lao Government on environment issues.
On December 5 in the morning the team met with OXFAM Belgium in Laos in OXFAM Office.
Mr. Dominique Van Der BORGHT, OXFAM Country Director and Mr. Bong MUNSAYAPHOM, Associate Country Director/Program Coordinator welcomed StreetNet delegation.
Mr. Dominique emphasised OXFAM program components for Laos, such as: economic justice; gender justice; right to be heard. He also noted on priorities, which are workers’ rights as well as informal part of workers and advocacy work.
Mr. Bong noticed that OXFAM has some activities with LFTU on collective bargaining issues, which is rather new for LFTU and its affiliates; health and safety and organizing.
Mr. Bong explained that Laos is a rather closed country (e.g. language) and international network doesn’t include Laos in its agenda. He also noted on a big number of migrant workers in Laos, especially in rural places where migrant workers sometimes comprise 100 % of all the workers. It’s also seen in construction sector (migrants from Vietnam).
Lao people also emigrate but since migration policy in Laos is rather organised, they are not that much interested to migrate to other countries.
The 6-7 December was spent in Hanoi, Vietnamese capital.
In the morning StreetNet delegation met with GFCD Director Ms. Ngo Thi Ngoc Anh.
Research Center for Gender – Family and Community development (GFCD) is a non-governmental and non-profit organisation working on gender equality promotion, women empowerment and protection. The center was established in August 2000 under Consultative Institute for socio-economic development of rural and mountainous areas (CISDOMA).
GFCD together with Women’s Union organised a Club for Domestic Workers, each of them has per 25 members. They meet once a month and have opportunity to get some skills on how to protect themselves, whom to report in case of violence or harassment.
The President of GFCD announced that they plan to make research on informal street vendors and hope for cooperation with StreetNet in this regard. However, Pat Horn indicated that StreetNet can facilitate GFCD in contacting WIEGO and International Domestic Workers’ Organisation which can bring some positive results from its cooperation.
Later we met with LIGHT (Institute for Development & Community Health).
StreetNet delegation together with OXFAM team met with LIGHT Deputy Director Ms. Nguyen Thu Giang.
2003 – LIGHT was established and registered as a Non-Profit Organization. LIGHT is mainly focused on working with migrant workers especially those who are engaged in informal economy sector.
Ms. Giang showed us a video recorded by LIGHT in Long Bien Market in Hanoi. Long Bien Market is a night market in which around 2000 workers work every night. This market is a big hope for a lot of people (mainly from rural places), as once you want to find some job, you can go to this market and work there as informal migrant most of times without any kind of employment relationships. This video also clearly shows a problem with drugs trafficking such as opium trade.
After lunch break the meeting with Vietnam General Confederation of Labour (VGCL) took place in VGCL headquarter.
The meeting was attended by Mr. Puan, Deputy Director of Policy and Legal Affairs Department; Leader of Women’s Department and Ms. Pham Thi Thu Lan, Deputy Head of Division, International Department.
VGCL is the only the National Trade union center in Vietnam affiliated to the WFTU.
Ms. Pham explained to us that currently a leadership of VGCL participates in WFTU conference on organizing and collective bargaining, and that’s why apologized that they couldn’t attend our meeting today.
Leader of VGCL Women’s Department noted that informal economy is rather important issue for VGCL, as it comprises more than 60 %. She also indicated that working in informal sector for VGCL is a main thing now and there is some association, but unfortunately VGCL doesn’t have any experience how to support this association.
She also told us about some “syndicates” which exist in Vietnam and unite only workers of one profession: moto-taxi syndicate, fishing workers’ syndicate and cameramen syndicate.
There was even an example, when VGCL assisted informal workers through mobilizing formal workers (who are VGCL members) who in their turn could assist and support the informal workers.
It was also underlined that VGCL tries to educate informal workers as they don’t know the law and their rights. Moreover, the president of fishing workers’ syndicate for the first time was elected to the VGCL National Council. However there are no any syndicates of street vendors in Vietnam yet.
Mr. Puan emphasized on the Vietnamese Labour Code, which “represents all the workers in Vietnam”. As for instance, VGCL unites more than 9 million workers however VGCL represents all the workers including those inside and outside the country.
He also noted that in 2012 the Labour Code was revised and a lot of new provisions for workers including informal workers contain in current Labour Code. The Code also has a Chapter on Domestic Workers.
Just recently a new Law on Employment has been passed which defines the informal workers as well as self-employed workers and their non-employment relationship. Some provisions regarding informal workers have been also amended in the Social Insurance Law. Currently those Laws are under implementation process.
Pat Horn presented document “Framework Model on collective bargaining system for street vendors at local level”, indicating that StreetNet can forward this useful document to the VGCL. She also mentioned Social Protection Floor issue and cross-border trade.
Arbind Singh shared with some experience from India on organising street vendors and struggle for the Law on Street Vending.
The VGCL representatives asked StreetNet to provide them with some experience, knowledge and skills on how to organize, retain and mobilize informal traders in Vietnam. Mr. Puan even proposed to organise a joint workshop with StreetNet which could be a good start of our cooperation.
After the meeting with VGCL we met with Ms. Thuong, ILO National Program Officer, who indicated on two approaches from ILO side towards the Vietnamese Government:
- To think about transition from informal to formal economy;
- To support those people engaged in informal economy sector.
She also emphasized that ILO supports Government to implement the new Law “On Employment”.
ILO in Vietnam also organised workshop to develop definition of “Informal Economy”, inviting representative of statistics office, scientists and other people concerned.
There is also signed Decent Work Country Program in Vietnam for 2012-2016. Its main focus is:
- Decent Work;
- Social protection;
During our last day in Hanoi, we met with OXFAM Belgium Team in OXFAM Office.
The meeting was attended by Thibaut Hanquet, OXFAM Belgium Regional Liaison Officer, Joelle Plumerel, OXFAM South-East Asia Programme Manager, Hilda, OXFAM Belgium Asian Desk and Program Coordinator for Cambodia.
Pat Horn introduced StreetNet delegations’ feedback regarding the trips to Cambodia-Lao-Vietnam and presented some ideas on further activity in the region.
Thibaut Hanquet indicated that OXFAM Belgium can be supportive in StreetNet’s activity in Vietnam (e.g: facilitating workshop). But, as Thibaut noted we have to think about regional cooperation, which can start from the end of January 2014.
Hilda noted that OXFAM Belgium is going to organize porters in Laos, which can be also interesting for StreetNet to cooperate on.
The sides agreed to cooperate keeping in touch mainly with Asian Regional Focal Point Coordinator and StreetNet Organizer for Asia.
The field trip to Southeast Asia was a very useful and positive one as StreetNet delegation understood the situation in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam and developed some ideas as for further possible cooperation and with which international and local organizations StreetNet can work in this region.
Both Laos and Vietnam have street vendors and hawkers, but they are not organised into any unions or associations which means there is a lot of work for StreetNet in this country. It was a good experience learning about street vending law which was presented by Arbind Singh, NASVI National Coordinator. Sam Orn from Cambodia also showed us good examples of organising informal workers.