|Two weeks after the rioting in the southern province of Binh Duong, workers returned to work at Esquel Garment Manufacturing Viet Nam, one of the affected enterprises in the Viet Nam - Singapore Industrial Park. — VNA/VNS Photo Thanh Vu
by Minh Thi
HA NOI (VNS) — Poor industrial relations may have contributed to the riots in Binh Duong in May, according to research conducted by the Project for Promoting Sustainable Compliance in Viet Nam. The riots, which took place during the anti-China protests, damaged many foreign firms.
"Incidents like that can take place anytime, anywhere, if workers' dissatisfaction is not dealt with and if they don't feel their concerns have been answered," said Dang Thi Hai Ha, chief technical adviser of the project.
The project, also known as FLA 3.0 Vietnam, funded by the US Department of State and implemented by the Fair Labour Association, indicated that out of a total of more than 5,270 strikes during the 1995-2013 period, none were legitimate.
During the riots in Binh Duong in May, many workers attempted to vandalise not only other firms, but also their own firms.
Workers who responded to the FLA 3.0 project's survey said that extremists involved in the riots probably resented their firm's managers. Some said the workers could have been angered by ill treatment from managers.
Ha said low pay was not the only reason for worker dissatisfaction. She said other factors included frequent requirements of overtime work and delays in paying wages.
During 2012-2014, the project surveyed 5,000 workers randomly selected from 32 textile and footwear firms in 13 provinces. Seventy seven per cent said it was impossible for them to choose work shifts, while 36 per cent said they could not afford the right to refuse overtime.
In addition, 50 per cent said their wages were insufficient to cover basic needs if they worked less than 54 hours a week.
According to Ha, while it seemed that the authorities had achieved some success in controlling disputes by reducing the number of strikes to 351 last year, this might not have been due to better industrial relations.
The reduction might have been because workers were afraid of losing their jobs in difficult times, not because they were more satisfied with their work, Ha said.
But dissatisfaction was still there and workers kept it to themselves for a long time before strikes broke out, she added.
An examination of 268 strikes last year involving more than 106,000 workers in seven cities and provinces indicated that firms lost 3.2 million hours of work due to strikes.
About 12.4 per cent of respondents to the survey said they thought that strikes were the best way to solve disputes, while about 26 per cent said they thought it helped.
Nearly 50 per cent said they would consider participating in a strike if it occurred at their firm.
Yet, while showing willingness to take part in strikes, Ha said workers were still afraid to directly voice their concerns to their managers.
About 47 per cent of workers who responded said they would choose to use suggestion boxes to hide their identities and 30 per cent said they would talk to fellow workers.
However, 34 per cent said they would talk to line supervisors and 27 per cent said they would discuss matters with trade unions or workers' representatives.
Nearly six per cent of workers said speaking to a trade union was a waste of time and 43 per cent thought it was only necessary under certain circumstances.
Dang Quang Dieu, director of the Institute for Workers and Trade Unions, said workers were hesitant to confront their employers or directly voice their dissatisfaction as they were afraid of retaliation.
The FLA 3.0 project reported that firm managers now considered wildcat strikes as unavoidable business costs.
Ha said if industrial relations were good, workers might even try to protect their workplace, citing a case in Binh Duong where a firm was saved from being set on fire by its workers during the anti-China protests.
Ha said human-relations needed improving and that employers needed better control of production planning to avoid pressuring workers into overtime.
Dieu of the Institute for Workers and Trade Unions said the capacity of trade union staff and HR managers at many enterprises failed to meet real demands, indicating the need for more training.
He said the Trade Union had allocated 15 per cent of its total budget to train trade union staff at central and local levels and at enterprises.
In response to Viet Nam News's question about workers' concerns over the frequent requirement for overtime work, Dieu said workers might report to the authorities if employers violated the Government's regulation against excessive overtime.
He said the current law regulated that employers could not request overtime exceeding four fours a day or exceeding 200 hours a year.
He said, however, that workers were still not willing to contact the authorities to report workplace problems.
He suggested that the Government set up a hotline so that workers could easily report complaints and violations of labour rules to the authorities
Ha suggested that strikes could be prevented if their pattern of frequency was studied, adding that there was a correlation between high inflation and frequent strikes. — VNS