Deputy Minister of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs Phạm Minh Huân spoke with Thời báo Kinh tế Việt Nam (Vietnam Economic Times) Newspaper about measures needed to improve labour relations, in a bid to reduce strikes.
There has been an increase in strikes by workers over the past months. What do you think about this?
According to ministry statistics, there were almost 50 strikes and labour disputes in the first two months of the year. One of these strikes involved nearly 20,000 workers of Pouchen Việt Nam Company in the southern province of Đồng Nai last month.
It is a great pity when a strike happens. Strikes document inefficient dialogue and negotiations between workers and their employers. Employer-employee disputes often result when State policies aren’t appropriately implemented by businesses.
Most strikes so far this year related to 2016 minimum wage adjustments, salaries, and employee bonuses. Labour disputes usually arise when businesses fail to pay employees proper salaries and bonuses. Any plan to adjust salary and benefits - including money allocated for housing, meals, etc. - should be negotiated between employers and employee representatives, to avoid common workplace disputes.
What are the real reasons behinds these strikes?
There is a conflict between costs and profits.
The new laws which took effect in January create added pressure for businesses. The regulation increasing the minimum wage, and the new law requiring employees to pay more money for insurance than they did under the old law, are two examples of the additional pressure businesses now face.
Businesses have to calculate costs. When production costs increase but product prices don’t, businesses usually try to make up for the money lost by trying to reduce workers’ salaries and benefits.This dynamic causes conflict between costs and profits.
On the one hand, government policies are geared towards guaranteeing the interests and living conditions of workers. On the other hand, employers have got to make money and earn profits.
Is it illegal for businesses to reduce employee benefits, only to use the money saved to pay employee salaries?
The Government issued a regulation on increasing the minimum wage. So businesses must adjust the minimum wage, but keep existing welfare policies for workers.
Employers should consult with trade unions before reducing employee benefits or salary, to avoid problems. Government agencies should see to it that businesses comply with Vietnamese labour laws. For example, in the case of Pouchen Company in Đồng Nai, problems would have been avoided if employers and trade union representatives had negotiated properly.
What is the role of trade unions?
Provincial trade unions and business trade unions both participate in building harmonious labour relationships. But representatives of trade unions still need to focus on advocating for employee incomes, working hours, and the amount of work required of workers.
All of the strikes and labour disputes so far this year failed to follow government regulations and protocals for employee strikes and disputes. It is important to follow Vietnamese labour laws. Workers must have the right to go on strike; but they must obey the law, too.
Does the ministry have any means to limit strikes?
The ministry, relevant agencies, and local authorities, have all helped workers and employees negotiate. Goals include creating optimum conditions for workers to return to work after strikes, as well as representing workers’ interests.
The ministry reviews relevant regulations and policies, amending and supplementing them as needed.
The ministry also expects the Việt Nam General Confederation of Labour, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and other relevant agencies to increase information dissemination -- and to guide the implementation of related regulations, particularly those relating to adjustment of the minimum wage and employee benefits, assuring the interests of workers.
But employees and workers must understand related policies and increase dialogue with each other. This is currently a weak point in labour relations, leading to strikes and causing problems for both businesses and workers.
To resolve issues before serious problems develop, workers must respect laws, dialogue with employers, and consult local authorities as needed. — VNS