HẢI PHÒNG — At enterprises in Việt Nam, it is still common to see a senior manager or human resources manager doubling as that company's trade union chairman.
Although trade unions are supposed to represent and protect the rights and interests of labourers, the union leaders are usually employed by businesses, which in principle, would undermine their works.
An international expert on employee-employer relations has said making unions independent from the interference of management is key to building harmonious, stable and progressive industrial relations.
Phạm Thị Hằng, chairwoman of Hải Phòng Economic Zone’s trade union, is well known for her initiatives to help improve benefits for labourers and make trade unions free from management interference.
She has advocated establishing trade unions with workers as the core members so they no longer depend on employers to make decisions related to labour rights and for these efforts, she became one of the ten outstanding trade union officials honoured in the Nguyễn Văn Linh awards held for the first time in July by the Việt Nam General Confederation of Labour.
Hằng and trade union officials of the economic zone have approached each and every factory to listen to labourers’ difficulties and recommendations and encourage them to apply for trade unions.
Among 220 companies located in the economic zone, 188 have established grassroots trade unions. So far, about 100,000 out of 130,000 workers in the economic zone have become union members, a testament to the non-stop efforts of chairwoman Hằng and her colleagues, who realised that Việt Nam's international agreements allow for workers to freely choose which organisations they would like to join.
Việt Nam’s membership in the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership allows workers to establish or join organisations of their own choosing. Those organisations can decide whether they will be part of the VGCL, itself a State organisation.
Hằng has also pioneered collective bargaining with Foreign Direct Investment enterprises to provide better benefits for labourers.
In June this year, Việt Nam ratified International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 98 on the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining. The agreement allows labourers to negotiate with employers to have better working benefits and conditions.
Since 2016, Hằng has directly negotiated a collective bargaining agreement with a group of enterprises from the Republic of Korea. By June this year, 19 businesses had signed the agreement.
The agreement offers better benefits for workers at firms in the Hải Phòng Economic Zone. It sets the meal allowance at a minimum of VNĐ21,000 (US$0.9) per worker per day. The Tết (Lunar New Year) bonus is equal to at least one month's wage. The monthly travel allowance is VNĐ400,000 ($17) per worker. Female workers in their menstrual period are paid overtime for their hours according to the Labour Code. Each month, labourers must have at least one week working for 40 hours.
The negotiation process was not easy. To persuade business representatives, Hằng and the leaders of the trade unions had to analyse the advantages and disadvantages of increasing wages and meal allowances to make sure employers understood the benefits of the changes.
ILO Việt Nam country director Chang-Hee Lee has praised Hằng’s creative and unique approach, calling the agreement at Hải Phòng Economic Zone a new milestone in developing labour relations among businesses and their employees.
Hằng was honoured last month by the VGCL as one of the ten most outstanding individuals who contributed to trade union activities.
Trần Văn Tú, trade union chairman of Bluecom Vina Company located in the economic zone, said Hằng had been successful thanks to her knowledge, negotiation skills, activeness and enthusiasm for initiating labour campaigns.
"These qualities are the foundation for strengthening trade unions and striking successful collective bargaining agreements," he said. — VNS