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Union looks out for workers' rights

Update: June, 23/2014 - 07:57

Director of the Worker and Trade Unions Institute under the Viet Nam Labour Federation Vu Quang Tho spoke with Hai Quan cuoi tuan (Customs Weekly) about the labour union's role in protecting workers' rights.

There have recently been a series of large scale strikes at foreign direct investment (FDI) enterprises. What were the reasons behind these strikes?

Wage problems, living conditions, a poor work-life balance, weak local labour unions and a lack of awareness of legal rights were the reasons behind recent strikes.

A survey conducted by the Worker and Trade Unions Institute in some areas with a high number of FDI enterprises like Ha Noi, HCM City, Binh Duong, Dong Nai, Ba Ria-Vung Tau, Vinh Phuc, Bac Ninh and Hai Duong provinces showed labourers in FDI areas worked long shifts and in high pressure environments.

However, their average income was not higher than the average income of workers working at other enterprises. Income levels of FDI workers also showed vast disparities with differences between 5-10 times, particularly in the south.

The survey also showed that around 74 per cent of workers have had stable jobs. Only 16.6 per cent of workers were comfortable at work, while only 26.3 per cent of workers had good relationships with their employers. More than 44 per cent of workers said that they received a low salary and 15.4 per cent of them were unhappy with overtime and long shift working.

Generally, the relationship between labourers and their employers at FDI enterprises was not harmonious.

What's the role of the labour union in strikes?

Most of the strikes were spontaneous, unstructured and led to a situation where striking workers acted in violation of the law. This was because the strikes occurred without the involvement or participation of labour unions.

Many enterprises have not obeyed regulations on labour standards and haven't ensured harmonious relationships between labourers and superiors. Many enterprises do not have labour unions yet (more than 50 per cent). In some enterprises with labour unions, labour union staff haven't asserted their role in facilitating work place dialogue between labourers and bosses.

That created a situation where petitions from workers hadn't been received or dealt with. The uncontrolled strikes showed the weakness of local labour unions in acting as representatives or leaders of workers.

What are the measures to improve the role of local labour unions?

We need to improve the role of labour unions in the workplace. Workplace conflicts would decrease if labour unions could act as real representatives of workers.

Labour union leaders should be talented people who fully understand the union's function and understand the feelings and aspirations of workers. They need to be able to propose petitions to managers and negotiate to minimise conflicts.

The labour union's role should be taking part in enterprise management and working with managers in building production and business plans, establishing the work culture, wage policy and contracts. Improvements to the role of union's role will ensure the protection of workers rights.

Moving forward, we need to continue revising and amending the law and regulations on handling labour conflicts and industrial action. Many unions have said that strike procedures are still very complex and need to be clarified. For example, in the current law, the term strike refers to strikes and temporary periods of stopping work. — VNS

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