A couple at an apartment of a social house project built for workers in northern Bắc Ninh Province. — VNA/VNS Photo Diệp Trương
Bùi Văn Cường, chairman of the Việt Nam General Confederation of Labour, talks to the Tuổi Trẻ (Youth) newspaper on the confederation’s commitments in the context of possibly new independent trade unions formed after Việt Nam accedes to CPTPP.
As a member of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), the Việt Nam General Confederation of Labour (VGCL) has five years to prepare for the emergence of new trade unions at the grassroots level. Has the VGCL prepared for such eventuality?
As a member of the CPTPP, Việt Nam will have a maximum of five years to prepare for its legal requirements towards the establishment of grassroots trade unions nationwide, and a maximum of seven years for these trade unions to link together to form larger union organisations. Under the CPTPP, if within these five years, Vietnamese law hasn't adapted to accommodate the formation of grassroots trade unions, it is likely that other CPTPP members will impose trade sanctions on Việt Nam.
Furthermore, in this period, if there is no change in Vietnamese law, the VGCL will remain the sole representative for Vietnamese labourers and workers. We need to take advantage of this window to renovate our activities to attract more Vietnamese workers to join us. Previously, as the only union in the country, there might be many delays but when several new unions spring up, we will have to speed up and embolden our efforts.
The Confederation is actively renovating ourselves and are pushing for collective bargaining agreements to be signed at all levels - from the levels of business groups to sector level and to the national level. It is expected that by 2021, the State will not intervene in setting salary anymore and it would be left for employers and the employees to negotiate and decide.
Have trade unions conducted negotiations with employers to protect workers’ rights?
In the past, negotiations between trade unions and employers are mostly a copy of the provisions in existing laws, with the additions of employers’ support for workers when they are ill or in special circumstances, as well as giving support to cultural and sport activities.
However, the negotiations have now focused more on raising salaries, bonuses, meal allowances or other financial support or break times. Still, the results are modest at best, with only 60 per cent of enterprises with trade unions have signed collective bargaining agreements with these organisations.
Some of the agreements were simply a reflection of what is regulated and there are no provisions in favour of working people.
Why do you think there is few mutual agreements signed between the employers and the trade unions that favour the labourers?
In their negotiations, many local authorities and trade unions have not paid attention to the protection of workers' rights regarding collective bargaining.
Local trade unions have not paid due attention to collective bargaining activities, particularly provisions which are in favour of the employees. Many trade union organisations don’t appoint people in charge of collective bargaining.
Under the current Vietnamese Trade Union Law, the trade union president at the business level, paid for by the employer, is the one to sign the collective agreement with their employer. If this person fights resolutely for the rights of the labourers then they might face retaliation from his employer, even be fired from the job.
In other countries, the one who signs the collective agreement with the employer is someone from the trade union at a higher level, if an agreement is not reached, they could freely organise strikes to put pressure on the employer.
That’s why we have made a proposal to involve people at a higher level in collective labour negotiations.
Can you tell us some of the proposed changes in the upcoming revised Law on Trade Unions?
First, to renew the trade union organisation, including its contents and activities, the trade union should act as a true representative of the workers and should protect their legitimate rights.
The Confederation has recently submitted to the Prime Minister a proposal on the construction of housing projects, with the inclusion of supporting facilities such as supermarkets and cultural houses, for workers at industrial parks or export processing zones.
Last but not least, the trade union will step up its mass communication campaign to make the VGCL "attractive" for all Vietnamese workers.
How do you respond to the current legal requirement that employers has to contribute 2 per cent of their monthly revenues for the operation of trade union?
Trade unions are independent entities and operate on the monthly fees contributed by members as well as employers' obligatory contributions.
Trade union fees are a kind of tax regulated in many countries, otherwise employers will just find ways to avoid paying.
Việt Nam is now a member of the CPTPP and a signatory to International Labour Organisation (ILO) Treaty 98. For the foreseeable future, we proposed that the 2 per cent fee should be divided accordingly among all trade unions that represent employees at enterprises, based on the ratio of workers under each union. — VNS