On August 31 a Life Support Seminar was held for the coffee farm group of informal-sector workers in the district of Paksong in Champasak Province. At the beginning of the seminar, Director Teruhiko Sekiguchi of the JILAF Thailand Office outlined JILAF’s activities and the SGRA project (Supporting Grass-Roots Activities through the International Employers’ and Workers’ Network), after which Mr. Ounkam Bounyaseing,
head of the General Affairs Division of the Labour Protection Bureau at the Lao Federation of Trade Unions (LFTU), introduced SGRA activities in Laos and encouraged the participants, who had become new network members.
A representative of the coffee farm group then shared the following issues faced by the group: (1) Although coffee beans are being sold to a factory of Dao Coffee, the largest coffee company in Laos, the price has fallen from 10,000 kip/kg to 2,000 kip/kg; (2) the group wants to sell not to the factory but to general consumers, but it lacks know-how about such matters as quality management and packaging; and (3) the group is considering the establishment of a mutual-aid fund within the group but lacks know-how.
In response, Mr. Ounkam gave a talk titled “Toward the Establishment of an SGRA Cooperative Society,” in which he explained the know-how required to set up and manage a cooperative. In addition, the vice-chairman of the Champasak Chamber of Commerce and Industry gave a talk on improving negotiation skills with buyers, such as the Dao Coffee factory, and expanding the sales network, and an expert at the Champasak branch of the Lao Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare explained vocational training programs operated by the ministry and social insurance for informal-sector workers.
Finally, after the lectures by government, labour, and management, the participants inspected the group’s coffee farm, checked the process from harvesting to roasting, and confirmed that efforts would be made to expand sales channels and so on.
Furthermore, a Life Support Seminar was held on September 3 at a village government office in the district of Xaythany in Vientiane for 30 sewing workers in that village (informal-sector workers). At the beginning of the seminar, the president of the LFTU’s Vientiane metropolitan branch and Deputy Director Yuki Otsuji of the JILAF Thailand Office outlined the purpose of the SGRA project and the objectives of the seminar.
In the seminar, working committee members representing the government, labour, and management gave lectures on (1) know-how required for the establishment and management of an SGRA cooperative society, (2) social insurance for informal-sector workers, and (3) application for the “one-district, one product” (ODOP) program as a means of expanding product sales.
After the lectures, the participants visited the workplace of the hand-sewing workers and heard about the issues that they faced. One of the main problems, they said, was that fake products posing as traditional Lao fabrics (produced in factories in China and Vietnam) were flooding the market, making it difficult to sell their own products at reasonable prices. The workers made requests concerning the development of added-value products and sales, to which the working committee members and Deputy Director Otsuji replied that they would study the matter in collaboration with the Lao National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LNCCI) and try and meet the requests as much as possible.
On September 25 (Sunday) JILAF, together with the State Enterprise Workers Relations Confederation (SERC), held a seminar at a temple in Samut Sakhon Province, which is in the Bangkok metropolitan region, on the establishment of an SGRA cooperative society for 36 informal-sector workers (including legal migrant workers) facing especially difficult conditions.
At the beginning of the seminar, SERC Deputy General Secretary Manop Kuerat and Director Teruhiko Sekiguchi of the JILAF Thailand Office welcomed the new network members and expressed the hope that their livelihoods would be improved through the voluntary establishment of an SGRA cooperative society for legal migrant workers.
In the seminar, information was shared on such topics as mutual assistance for workers in Japan and the mechanism of credit unions in Thailand. The participants then asked specific questions concerning the establishment of a cooperative, and JILAF and SERC replied pertinently.
Finally, the participants compiled and presented action plans for the establishment of an SGRA cooperative within one year.
On September 28 (Wednesday) JILAF, SERC, and the International Labour Organization (ILO) held a Life Support Seminar at a SERC meeting room for 25 home workers. (The seminar was also attended by General Coordinator Shinichi Akiyama of the International Affairs Division, Minister’s Secretariat, Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare; Mr. Charles Bodwell and Mr. Yasuo Ariga, experts at the ILO’s Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific; and First Secretary Hironori Tsuboi of the Japanese Embassy in Thailand.)
At the beginning of the seminar, SERC General Secretary Sawit Kaewvarn and Director Teruhiko Sekiguchi of the JILAF Thailand Office outlined the purpose of the seminar, after which General Coordinator Akiyama offered his encouragement to the participants.
In the seminar, a participatory-type program was conducted using the ILO’s Community-Based Enterprise Development (C-BED) tool with the aim of improving incomes. General Coordinator Akiyama commented, “I was able to catch a glimpse of how assistance from Japan is actually being used on the ground. I felt strongly that grass-roots support is needed in Thailand and many other Asian countries.”