Workers need better understanding of their rights: experts

Update: January, 05/2016 - 17:00
Workers at the Nissey Vietnam Ltd.Co. stopped work for almost a week, asking for a pay rise in February, 2016. Lack of negotiations is seen as main cause to strikes. — Photo
HA NOI (VNS) — Workers in industrial parks in HCM City stopped working on more than 160 occasions within the first six months of 2015, demanding increased salaries.

The main cause behind such an alarming figure is the lack of negotiation between labourers and employers, an official said.

The head of the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs' Industrial Relations Development Assistance Centre, Nguyen Manh Cuong, said workers went on strike because their rights were violated and living conditions worsened.

"When they feel they are treated unfairly, workers will seek negotiations or look for another job. In such cases, a negotiation is the best solution," Cuong said.

"Strikes will never happen if employers talk to employees and if trade unions perform their role well in protecting workers."

"When workers petitioned for increased salaries, the company did not deal with it properly and refused to enter into negotiations with workers," vice director of an enterprise in HCM City-based Tan Tao Industrial Park said.

"I had no choice. Only when work stopped did the director get involved in fixing what was wrong. More than 100 workers of the enterprise went on strike twice in May and June last year as their wages were even lower than the minimum wage stipulated in the Labour Law."

It is expected that such unfair treatment of labourers will no longer exist as Viet Nam, together with its partners, has successfully concluded negotiations on the European Union-Viet Nam Free Trade Agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Under the labour chapters of the TPP and EU-Viet Nam FTA, the country is obliged to reform both its legal system and its institutions and practices to ensure the realisation of the fundamental principles and rights at work, if it is to reap the full benefits of the favourable conditions offered under the FTAs. It means, for example, that Viet Nam's industrial relations system will need to develop in the coming years to allow workers and employers to organise or join organisations of their own choosing.

Soon after it concluded negotiations, the Vietnamese government committed to respect, promote and realise the ILO's declared fundamental principles and rights at work.

In a working session with the European Parliament in Viet Nam late last year, the Chairman of Vietnam Gederal Confederation of Labour, Dang Ngoc Tung, noted that Viet Nam has ratified five of the eight basic conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and is studying the remaining ones on the freedom of association and protection of the right to organise; the right to organise and bargain collectively; and the abolition of forced labour.

He emphasised, "Obviously, if trade unions work inefficiently, labourers can establish an organisation of their own provided that the organisation is registered with a competent State body."

Rights are unaware

The manager of a clothing company in the north, Nguyen Dinh Tu, said "Trade unions are usually paid by employers so their role remains minor, failing to fully protect workers' rights."

In the meanwhile, Tu added, workers are not completely aware of their rights.

Even when Viet Nam ratifies the three remaining ILO's conventions including the one on freedom of associations and collective bargaining, it is hard for workers to find a common voice as they do not have a thorough understanding of their rights.

"It is good that workers will have more rights in the workplace, but it is more important that their awareness should be raised," Tu said.

Nguyen Thu Que (not her real name), worker of a clothing company in Ha Noi said her understanding of her rights at work is quite general, and she is not clear about anything specific.

"We care most about how much we get paid each month when we sign a working contract," Que said.

When asked whether she knew that she would likely have the chance to associate with her peers to form their own association rather than the company's trade union when Viet Nam signs the TPP, she said she had no idea at all.

According to the chairman of Hai Phong Economic Zone's Trade Union, Pham Thi Hang, it was vital to create adequate conditions to enable workers to raise their voice for their needs.

More modern collective bargaining systems, to create a more stable business environment, are also needed. This would also help to ensure that productivity gains translate into higher wages and better working conditions, and so a stronger domestic market.

"An industrial relations system based on freedom of association and the recognition of the right to collective bargaining is a common feature of modern market economies," the Country Director of ILO Vietnam, Chang-Hee Lee said.

"International experience shows that it contributes to more equitable growth and to industrial harmony, as it helps to provide better balance of power between workers and employers and give voice to workers in determining wages and working conditions through dialogue," he said.

Viet Nam can improve trade union law, but it will only become meaningful when trade unions can organise and represent workers in a bottom-up manner for negotiation with employers, he added.

Vice chairman of the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour, Mai Duc Chinh, said that to fully realise the implementation on ILO's conventions, it is necessary to uniform the legal system.

"The National Assembly should soon issue law on association and amend the Labour Law and Law on Trade Union and related documents," he said. — VNS