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Industrial Affairs Vietnamese trade unionists deepen links with British unions

The General Federation of Trade Unions has hosted a week-long study visit by senior representatives of the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour. In this article VGCL international division head HIEU XUAN DUON responds to questions put to the delegation by the Morning Star and trade unionists

THE Vietnamese trade union movement has nearly 10 million members and is represented in key decision-making organs and national tripartite bodies.

The Vietnam General Confederation of Labour (VGCL), the country’s only trade union centre, is the equivalent of the TUC. It was established in 1929.

The retirement age for men in Vietnam is 60 and for women 55, and for those in specialist and dangerous occupations even younger. 

The minimum wage has no age discrimination, but is calculated based on the cost of living geographically. The unions won a 6.5 per cent increase in the minimum wage this year. 

There is a minimum of 21 days’ holiday, including public holidays, with an additional day being added each five years of service.
There is an overtime limit of 200 hours per annum and there is a working week of around 40 hours in offices and 48 hours in manual production.

The Vietnamese workforce is young and predominantly in manufacturing. The economy is growing fast each year.
There is an ongoing effort to involve women throughout the movement and organs of power.

Fifty per cent of trade union members are women, and in national power structures within the movement 30 per cent are women.

While the National Assembly aspires to 25 per cent female membership, key political figures such as the chair of the National Assembly, its permanent vice-chair and a state vice-president are women.

After 30 years of doi moi (renewal), the private economic sector has played an important driving force in the development of the socialist-oriented market economy in Vietnam. 

The private sector accounts for 39-40 per cent of GDP, with several major private economic groups and an increasing number of entrepreneurs.

The Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) central committee underlined promoting the development of all forms of production, business and goods and service provision in the production network between the private economy, state sector, collective economy and foreign-invested businesses.

The commanding heights of the Vietnamese economy — energy, land, utilities and so on remain in public hands.

The socialist-oriented market economy Vietnam is building is an economy operating in line with the rules of a market economy while ensuring socialist orientations suitable to each development stage of the country.

It will be a modern and internationally integrated economy under the management of a socialist law-governed state led by the CPV, for the goal of a “prosperous people, strong country, and democratic, equitable and civilised society.”

The socialist-oriented market economy is seen as an economic model in the transitional period to socialism in Vietnam.

The trade union movement in Vietnam plays a key role in engaging and formulating all labour-related legislation and policies.

These range from fundamental laws such as the comprehensive labour code and general trade union law, to welfare legislation, social insurance law and health and safety.

Rights relating to industrial action, including the right to strike, are enshrined in the labour code. This right to call a strike is strongly protected and governed. Labour disputes must be conciliated and arbitrated before unions are able to call strikes, which in turn must follow certain prescribed procedures.

However, there are many employers, both domestic, private and foreign, that are breaching labour-related legislation in Vietnam.

This is the cause of many wildcat strikes. Employers’ violations have resulted from several factors, including a limited number of labour inspectors, ineffective law enforcement, intentional behaviour of employers and poor communication capability of many workplace unions.

All the strikes that occurred did not follow the procedures required and therefore were considered as wildcat strikes.

The fact that most of them ended up with an agreement from employers to accept the demands of the strikers (in full or partly) makes wildcat strike a measure that workers tend to resort to.

The 11th Vietnam National Trade Unions Congress has adopted four main plans of action which cover organising new members and workplaces, building capacity for trade union reps to improve the quality of trade union activities, improving the quality of collective bargaining agreements’ negotiation and implementation, and improving vocational and professional skills for workers.

As the CPV is the ruling party, trade unions and workers in Vietnam have different forums to voice their concerns to protect and improve workers’ interests.

Trade unions maintain regular meetings with state and party top leadership to convey the most pressing issues of their members.

The prime minister of Vietnam speaks regularly with workers in industrial zones to listen to their concerns and respond to them and take measures to improve things and hold follow-up meetings to check implementation.

In the context of globalisation, workers’ issues and concerns are more interconnected than they think. Multinational companies (MNCs) are the same employers of workers in different countries, including Vietnam and Britain.

Workers in both countries are working in the global supply chains of the same MNCs. Workers and trade unions are facing with common global challenges — for example, climate change and the impact of the required transition to greener work; the future of work in the digitalisation era; the casualisation of employment; public spending cuts etc.

The 200-year history of the British trade union movement in areas of collective bargaining, legal advice, health and safety, trade union education and so on is helpful for Vietnamese trade unions, which have only just over 20 years of dealing with the market economy.

Both success and failure are fruitful to learn from for the newcomer. In turn, thanks to its political system, Vietnamese unions have achieved fairly good laws and regulations that British colleagues may consider helpful in their own struggle.

More importantly, against the corporate superpowers, workers and trade unions in different countries cannot win the fight on their own, they must stand and fight hand in hand to eliminate the race to the bottom, in unity not separately, in solidarity not in competition.

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