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February 2004   
F E A T U R E S

Interview: Trading in Principle
AMWU national secretary, Doug Cameron, a key figure in the Labor movement, discusses the big issues - from Mark Latham to Pavlovís Dogs.

Unions: While We Were Away
While Workers Online was washing sand from between its toes and enjoying an Indian summer at the cricket, there was a reality show chugging relentlessly away in the background, Jim Marr reports.

Politics: Follow the Leader
Workerís Online tool man, Phil Doyle, dives into the ALPís Darling Harbour love-in and nearly drowns in treacle.

Bad Boss: Safety Recidivist Fingered
The CFMEU has come up with a killer nomination to kick off our 2004 hunt for Australiaís worst employer.

Economics: Casualisation Shrouded In Myths
British academic, Kevin Doogan, sets the record straight on casualisation and warns unionists about the dangers of scoring an own goal

History: Worker Control Harco Style
Drew Cottle and Angela Keys ask if it's worth rememberinng the 1971 Harco work-in.

Review: Other Side Of The Harbour
The 1998 maritime dispute threatened to tear many a family apart but Katherine Thomson's Harbour tells the tale of at least one that it brought back together - albeit reluctantly, writes Tara de Boehmler.

C O L U M N S

The Soapbox
Dog Whistlers, Spin Doctor and Us
John Menadue argues the "better angels" of the Australian character are having their wings ripped off by an ever-expanding group dedicating to keeping the public at arms length from our decision-makers.

Postcard
Something Fishy In Laos
Phillip Hazelton fishes around in Vientiane, Laos, and looks at the impact of Bird Flu on those relying on feathered friends for survival.

Sport
Magic Realism
Phil Doyle discovers that literature and sport may have more in common than you would think

Parliament
The Westie Wing
Trickle, flood or drought? Workers friend Ian West, MLC, is wet, wet, wet on the issue of bilateral Free Trade.

E D I T O R I A L

All The Way With FTA?
Question marks over the bi-lateral Free Trade Agreement with the USA have only begun to scratch the surface.

N E W S

 Rail Safety Back On Track

 Commuter Headaches Continue

 Ban "Ruthless" Operators - Judge

 Telstra Provokes Jobs Fight

 Taskforce Ignores Million Dollar Rorts

 Musos Tune-Up for Election Rock

 Chubby Fingers in Timorese Pockets

 Postal Workers Wrap Boss

 Aussie Sites Doing the Business

 Feds Abandon Aged

 TAFE Stands Over Poor Students

 Round the World on Aid

 Activists Notebook

L E T T E R S
 Reality TV
 TAFE Support
 State Of Confusion
 Scambuster
 History Lesson
 Generation Angst
 Give Them A Medal
WHAT YOU CAN DO
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Postcard

Something Fishy In Laos


Phillip Hazelton fishes around in Vientiane, Laos, and looks at the impact of Bird Flu on those relying on feathered friends for survival.

Greetings from the Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA mob here in Vientiane.

The Union Aid Abroad APHEDA program with our local partners the Lao Women's Union, Lao Federation of Trade Unions and Luang Prabang Provincial Agriculture Department has been zooming along pretty well.

There are now four of us monitoring activities and progress, providing advice to partners or organising training and outside help. They are Khampasong Siharath, project manager, Vilayvone Chanthalaty, project officer, Mouk Manirath, project assistant, and myself.

Our main project is the creation of vocational skills training centres and courses for low income women in partnership with the Lao Women's Union (with financial support from AusAID as well as the Australian Education Union and individual donations). Since the training centres were built over a year ago the focus has been on the training key trainers, developing a curriculum and running two week to four month courses in vocational skills for low income women such as hairdressing, tailoring, food processing, hospitality and fish farming.

To build up the teaching and technical skills of trainers, we have organised a range of courses and regional exchanges for trainers and centre managers. Recently this has included training with the Non-Formal Education Centre of Ministry of Education here in Lao, as well as with Vocational Colleges in neighboring Thailand (Udon Thani). We have also organised exchange tours with APHEDA partners in Vietnam.

Within the Lao Women's Union project, by the end of this month, a total of 510 training places in 33 hairdressing, tailoring, food processing and handicraft courses will have been provided through the project. Trainees are 98% women between the ages of 15-40. In the project 85% of trainees are low income (less than USD10 a month per family member) and from either single parent families, or unemployed.

The real test comes in helping reduce poverty and build the capacity of the LWU to continue this work in the future. To get some early indicators of these issues we did a mid-term evaluation late last year. A major part of this was a tracer study of a randomly selected sample of graduates (85) from the first 18 months of the project.

Even at this early stage, average income increased 66% for trainees after graduating. This was an unexpectedly good result considering these graduates came from the project before improvements to curriculum and teaching methods.

Most graduates are earning income from home-based micro-enterprises. Hairdressing appears to be the easiest to set up, but tailoring can earn more once established. There was also good feedback on what were regarded as the most, and least, useful subjects and what new subjects would be helpful in the future.

In August 2003 we began support for an English as a Second Language course for the Lao Federation of Trade Unions (LFTU). This support is important to assist the trade union staff to communicate with other ASEAN and international trade unions as well as employers. Donations from Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA supporters are funding two classes, one elementary level and one pre-intermediate.

In total, 16 staff from the LFTU are being trained in the classes which will run through till the end of March 2004. The project hopes to help staff gain places in other government supported ESL training where basic English is a prerequisite.

Under the Lao system, the Lao Federation of Trade Unions is a government supported mass organization. Its role as a government supported body is different to independent unions in Australia. However there are considerable challenges for the LFTU as the private sector grows with increasing foreign investment in some industries such as textile and electricity.

Fish Farming in the age of Bird Flu

The outbreak of bird flu throughout Asia will have a big impact on many poor families who increasingly use chickens and ducks to supplement income and food deficiencies. While we hope the impact will be short term, one lesson for poor rural families will be diversification of livestock. The Union Aid Abroad project in the north of Lao is helping many poor families improve both income and food supply through pond and tank production of different types of fish A total of 180 small scale farmers have been trained and supplied with fingerlings in this project supported through donations by APHEDA supporters, matched by AusAID funds.

As part of this project, 40 women, either very poor, widows, or divorcees were selected to trial a new idea for the province, of catfish in small tanks. This targeted women who had no suitable land for the more traditional ponds. The tanks are built near their houses for easy management and security and will produce 3-4 separate fish stockings per year. I visited some of them last week and while in the cool season fish are slower to grow, families are eating fish regularly now from their first stock of fingerlings provided in October which is very encouraging.


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