Vietnamese guest workers have recently been stranded in Malaysia because their employers did not have the funds to extend their visas. Other guest workers have also been exploited by foreign companies. Viet Nam News reporters Thu Hien and Minh Thi discussed short and long-term measures to protect Vietnamese guest workers with senior experts.
What should Vietnamese labour export companies and relevant agencies do to help guest workers before their departure?
Max Tunon, Senior Programme Officer at the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific
Vietnamese law requires that migrants receive training and pass a test prior to departure on their rights and responsibilities, contents of the contract, culture in the destination country, life skills, etc.
In practice, delivering effective pre-departure training remains a challenge because of the variability depending on the recruitment agency, in terms of the length of the course, the appropriateness of the content, the training methodology and the quality of trainers, etc. As part of the pre-departure training, it is essential that migrants are made aware of their rights at work and know where to turn to for assistance in case their rights are violated.
Our research shows that migrants depend mostly on other migrants for all types of assistance, so migrant associations or networks are often the best way of sharing information and accessing support.
Nguyen Luong Trao, chairman of Viet Nam Association of Manpower Supply (VAMAS)
Actually, the selection process for guest workers should be considered as the first and key preparation step. Only when the quality of guest workers based on their health conditions, skills and working behaviours meets the requirements of employers in migrant-receiving countries, can they ensure their strict implementation of labour contracts and adherence to the laws of their destination countries, as well as their safety during their time overseas. Guest workers with more skills and experience are less vulnerable to abuse from employers.
|Nguyen Luong Trao
During the selection process, labour export companies should co-operate with relevant authorities who have detailed profiles and background information of potential candidates. Even when the potential candidates are selected and attend training courses, the companies should keep observing them and monitor their progress.
Another important task during pre-departure process is to help guest workers define proper goals for their departure. Earning money, of course, is the first motive for them to decide to work abroad. However, by bringing success stories of former guest workers who are now directors of tea and shoe factories to the training courses, companies can help guest workers acknowledge that they can attain many valuable attributes such as management skills, professional skills and foreign languages.
With the proper motives, they should be able to successfully work overseas.
Pham Thanh Hung, director of Viet Nam General Import – Export and Technological Transfer Co. Ltd. (Vinagimex)
Workers must go through our three-month training course to prepare for their departure. These include a language course that equips them with basic language skills and an orientation course which provides knowledge about the geography, weather, laws and customs of their destination country.
Only when they complete the courses and pass the examination are they allowed to depart for their new jobs.
What should they do to protect guest workers during their time overseas?
Max Tunon: Migrant workers who have been exploited or violate the immigration laws through no fault of their own should be given the opportunity to find alternative employment in their country of destination.
If this is not possible, it is essential that they are fully compensated by the employer or recruitment agency, so as to avoid the additional burden of being unable to pay off debts incurred in the migration process.
Governments should also establish referrals networks with NGOs and trade unions that are sometimes better placed to provide shelter, counselling and legal assistance to migrants who have been exploited.
Trao: The law regulates that labour export companies need to allocate officers to their main labour export markets. These officers are responsible for managing their guest workers and helping them deal with any problems.
In labour export markets where the companies have no officers allocated, it is a must for them to have quick respond plans when anything bad happens to their guest workers. They have to entrust officers to the scenes to co-operate with the embassy and their counterparts to protect their guest workers.
To minimise all the risks for guest workers, labour export companies should consider their counterparts carefully.
Hung: We send about 3,000 people abroad every year. Ninety-eight per cent of workers recruited by Vinagimex go to Taiwan where we have set up a representative office so our guest workers always have a point of contact.
Representatives from our office visit them at their workplaces and meet the employers at least once a month to see if there are any problems. In certain cases, staff from our company's representative office in Taiwan may come to their company and discuss ways to reconcile and reach an agreement between the two sides.
|Pham Thanh Hung
Workers may also contact the Viet Nam Labour Management Committee in Taiwan for support.
If our counterparts go bankrupt or dissolves, the workers will be compensated for losing their jobs.
The workers also have insurance. If they have any accidents or die, their Taiwanese insurance company will offer compensation. They also have insurance with the Overseas Labour Support Fund under the Overseas Labour Department (DOLAB) in Viet Nam.
Which measures will be taken to improve the commitments of labour export companies to their guest workers?
Trao: A code of conduct which specifically regulates necessary preparation steps and assistance activities of labour export companies for their guest workers is going to be implemented. Those who fail to implement the code will be publicised.
Workers should actively protect themselves by asking for necessary information from their local relevant agencies http://dolab.gov.vn before signing contracts.
Max Tunon: The ILO is working with DOLAB to strengthen legislation related to the sending of Vietnamese workers abroad, and building the capacity of central and provincial partners to implement the law effectively.
The organisation is also helping VAMAS to monitor the implementation of its code of conduct. This will lead to a rating system for recruitment agencies, and will enable migrant workers to choose to migrate through agencies that demonstrate better performance.
Migrant Worker Resource Centres (MRCs) have already been established within the Employment Service Centres in the provinces of Thanh Hoa and Quang Ngai, and will also open in provinces of Ha Tinh, Phu Tho and Bac Ninh in the coming months. The MRCs offer information, counselling and assistance to potential migrants, migrants and members of their families.
What could Viet Nam learn from other countries about managing and supporting their guest workers?
Max Tunon: The Philippines places a strong priority on balancing the deployment of migrant workers with the protection of migrant workers. The Government negotiates bilateral agreements with destination countries to ensure certain protections for their workers. The Philippines also has a policy that holds employers and recruitment agencies jointly liable for claims that may arise in connection with the implementation of the employment contract. That means that migrants can claim unpaid wages, for example, from the recruitment agency when back in the Philippines. In major destination countries, there are Philippines Overseas Labour Offices that are responsible for vetting employers and also assisting migrants in dispute resolution and repatriation.
However, given the number of migrant workers in some countries, resource limitations mean that governments also need to work with trade unions and NGOs. A good example of trade union co-operation is between trade unions in Nepal (GEFONT) and Malaysia (MTUC). The MTUC office receives many Nepalese migrant workers whose rights have been violated, following GEFONT referrals or through the distribution of information booklets. Even when migrants return back to Nepal, the MTUC are able to pursue their cases with the employer or through the legal system in Malaysia, while GEFONT maintains pressure on the recruitment agency in Nepal.
Could you tell us about your seven-years overseas working experience?
Nguyen Van Bay, guest worker in Malaysia during 2004-2011
I had to pay VND23 million (US$1,095) via a middleman in my village whose relative worked for a labour export company to be recruited to work in Malaysia.
|Nguyen Van Bay
As stated in my three-year labour contract, I would work as a car driver for eight hours a day. My monthly salary was US$200 and I would get extra money for overtime. My employer would be responsible for paying my health insurance and money for working in hazardous environments.
Before my departure, I attended a two-month course held by the labour export company in which I studied Malaysian law, culture, working rules and English. They also gave details of people to contact if I needed help in Malaysia.
However, nothing ran smoothly when I arrived in Malaysia. I had to work at an armchair factory, instead of being a driver. In the first seven months, the factory's production fell, and I only got VND3 million ($142) per month. I became worried and took part in a strike to ask for my employer to create more jobs or pay for our flights back home. When I realised it was unlawful and ineffective, I asked my colleagues to stop and called the labour export company for help.
Coupled with this, my life was quite hard because I was unable to speak English. I felt hopeless.
Soon after, the business at the factory picked up. I tried to learn from experienced foreign workers and worked industriously at the factory. My monthly salary reached VND8 million ($380). After extending my labour contract three times, in my seventh year at the factory, I earned VND15 million ($714) per month.
After I finished my contract and returned home, my employer called me several times to invite me to go back and work for him, with a promise of VND18-20 million ($857-952) per month.
I was much luckier than many Vietnamese guest workers in Malaysia whose employers found unreasonable reasons to sack them so that they did not have to compensate their labour contracts. Many had to wander around to look for new jobs.
My first goal in Malaysia was to earn money, but I also learned how to make armchairs and manage a factory. Thanks to these skills, I have established a workshop producing armchairs in my countryside in Ha Noi's Thach That District.
I can speak English fluently and I'm proud of understanding Malaysia's places and culture like its native people. I would never have gained this knowledge if I had not decided to work overseas. — VNS