Vietnam government leads the strike?

2007-02-18 - chong

"China" Union of Post Office protested against renaming the company as "Taiwan" Post Company Limited. Many newspapers published the picture of workers kicking doors to protest. This makes me think of what the unions in Vietnam, a country less developed econmically than Taiwan, are doing.

In October 2005, Vietnam government announced raising minimum wage of foreign owned company in a lofty tone. But the effective date was set in April 2006. After widely media coverage, there was an uproar in Ho Chih Minh City. Worker strikes spreaded gradually and affected enterprises owned by Japanese, European, Korean and Taiwanese. There are still scattered strikes even in the year of 2007. Many Taiwanese businessmen doubt: Is the Vietnamese government behind the wave of strikes?

Taiwanese businessmen argued that many strikes were well co-ordinated. For example, some people put leaflets secretly in factories. As soon as each strike broke out, government officials arrived immediately. Workers on strike did not have leaders and union presidents to act as representative to negotiate. Instead, in most cases, government's labour department joined the negotiation with the management. And government has a special demenad. Government has been asking enterprises to change the pay scale system into so-called "incremental pay-scale system". It is similiar to the pay-scale system of civil servant in Taiwan. Wage is increased by one point each year. Most negotiations resulted in the implementation of this new system.

Actually, the Vietnam government has been considering this system for a long time. It only used this wave of strike to push it forward. The government does not want to scar away foreign investors. Any strike might affect the decision of investors. But the administration also has to face the enormous pressure from trade unions and workers. If it failed to take consideration of workers' welfare, the Vietnamese workers would oppose the government. In other words, protection of workers' welfare is one of the way for the Vietnamese Communist Party to gain its legitimacy.

According to Vietname's labour law, trade union needs to be set up after an enterprise has been running its business for six months. Factory union is led by district union or union of a particular industry. The upper level is the leadership of the National Worker Association. When the central government makes any policy related to labour, it has to negotiate with the National Worker Association. Besides, while Vietnam is building connection with global economy and politics, they begin accepting the suggestions of international worker association including the tri-partisan model: labour, capital and government could sit down to discuss on labour issues.

In this tri-partisan mechanism, trade union plays a key part. Not only do the Vietnamese trade unions negotiate with many departments of central government, but also they work on organizing. They help factory workers set up trade union and provide labour law training for unionists. They offer guidance of election of union cadres and collective bargaining with the management. Some Taiwanese companies already signed a treaty with factory trade union, stating clearly the standards about wage scale, welfare benefit and labour condition.

The strikes over the past two to three years are not legal (only strike led by trade union is legal). It might demonstrate the gap between government-led trade unions and low-rank workers. But the legal restriction on workers' strike is also probably too harsh for workers to launch a "legal" strike.

We found that social democratization works well in some factories. The interviewed workers appreciate this democratic system. They know clearly that when something goes wrong with their labour condition, they should consult trade unionists. A union president of a large enterprise told me that he often receives petition letters, complaints and telephone calls from workers. Obviously workers find trade union useful.

Both Vietnamese government and trade unions work hard in improving labour condition. A Taiwanese businessman sighed, "If Taiwanese workers know about the situation in Vietnam, they would definitely burst into tears." If Taiwan government and trade union keep working on some fake issues irrelevant to workers, how could Taiwanese workers stop their tears?


From China Times 2007.02.16 
Author: hongzen63
Translator: chong
(original title is "Workers' Tears")

Photo: A Vietnamese worker(Natmandu)