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TPP pushes free association reforms to happen sooner

Update: April, 20/2016 - 09:42
Việt Nam’s engagement in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) accelerated its process of allowing free association rights to Vietnamese workers by at least five years compared to the Government’s initial plan, said a deputy minister yesterday.– Photo vietnamplus.vn

HÀ NỘI – Việt Nam’s engagement in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) accelerated its process of allowing free association rights to Vietnamese workers by at least five years compared to the Government’s initial plan, said a deputy minister yesterday.

“Without the TPP, the (labour) reforms would have taken place only after 2020,” Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs Deputy Minister Phạm Minh Huân said in the first Việt Nam Industrial Relations Forum held yesterday in Hà Nội.

The Forum, jointly held by the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs (MoLISA), the Viet Nam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) together with the Việt Nam General Confederation of Labour (VGCL) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO), aimed to identify opportunities and challenges for the country’s industrial relations in the process of international integration, especially with its signing of multiple new-generation free trade agreements, including the TTP.

The historic TPP – officially signed by its 11 members this February in Auckland, New Zealand – was expected to open big economic development opportunities for Việt Nam, although it also pressured the Southeast Asian country to make major reforms to its labour code, and specifically to trade unions.

At the heart of the TPP’s requirements, and of the other big free trade agreement between Việt Nam and the European Union (Việt Nam-EU FTA), is that Việt Nam has to fully respect the principle of free association, or in other words, Vietnamese workers would be completely free to set up or join an independent trade union. That would mark a breakthrough change in employment relations, as so far there is only one state organisation – the Việt Nam General Confederation of Labour (VGCL) – that functions as a trade union in the country. However, it has left much to be desired as it works for the benefits of its nine million labourer members.

According to a report by the MoLISA’s Centre for Industrial Relations Development, there were 5,669 strikes nation-wide from 1989 to last year, of which none were organised and managed by the VGCL, or by its 14,000 affiliate trade unions in localities.

“It shows that most trade unions at the grassroots level failed to represent their workers,” said Maurizio Bussi, Director of the ILO Decent Work Technical Support Team for East and Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

The establishment of independent trade unions other than the VGCL would help to ensure the rights of the employees, but also posed challenges to the VGCL to have a structural reform in order to survive the competition of other new trade unions that perform better for the sake of their members.

“Newly set-up trade unions will be able to choose whether to join the VGCL or act independently. Thus there is the real risk that the workers will leave the VGCL if the organisation itself refuses to carry out reforms,” said VGCL Deputy Chairwoman Nguyễn Thị Thu Hồng.

The Vietnamese government, in the meantime, will consider ratifying as soon as possible the three remaining core ILO’s Conventions including those on freedom of association, protecting the right to organise, collective bargaining and the abolition of forced labour, said the joint statement of the MoLISA, VCCI and VGCL in the forum.

The forum was planned to be an annual meeting of the three parties to discuss labour-related issues in Việt Nam. – VNS

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