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Illegal Wildcat Strikes

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Post 16 Sep 2008, 18:34
More wildcats in Vietnamese garment industry
14 September 2008

Some 2,000 workers at two foreign-owned companies have gone on strike, demanding better pay and allowances, company and union officials said Friday.

More than 1,400 workers at Valley View Vietnam, a Taiwanese-owned garment company based in the central city of Danang, have been on strike since Thursday, demanding a monthly petrol allowance of 100,000 dong (6 dollars) and an increase in their daily meal allowance.

"We told them to return to work and that we are ready to meet their demands, but they refuse," said Le Ngoc Tuyen, head of human resource at the company. "Their strike has made trouble for us with clients, we can't ship orders on time."

Government agencies in Danang have so far failed to negotiate a resolution to the strike.

Meanwhile, more than 400 workers at South Korea's Daewoong and J. Young, a garment company in the outlying Ho Chi Minh City district of Hoc Mon, have struck to demand a pay raise of 300,000 dong (18 dollars) above the current salary of 930,000 dong (56 dollars) per month.

"We have tried to settle the case by working with both sides, but workers are still on strike today and will not return to work until their demand is met," said Bui Thi Tuyet Nhung, chairman of Hoc Mon Trade Union Association.

Vietnam has been struggling to curb double-digit annual inflation, which hurts workers' purchasing power. Inflation rose to a monthly rate of 1.6% in August, up from 1.1% in July, due to fuel price hikes.

There are no independent labour rights organizations in Vietnam, and the official national labour union sees its role as mediating between companies and workers rather than taking sides. As a result, unofficial wildcat strikes have become increasingly common.

330 illegal strikes recorded in six months
18 June 2008

VietNamNet Bridge – A total of 330 strikes have been recorded so far this year and all of them were illegal because they were not led by the trade union and didn’t follow the law, reported the Vietnam National Confederation of Labour at a conference in Hanoi on June 16-17.

The confederation’s Vice Chairman, Mai Duc Chinh, said that under the current regulations, only grassroots trade unions have the right to organise strikes, but this regulation is unrealistic because there is no mechanism to protect trade union leaders and most employers don’t positively cooperate with trade unions.

Most leaders of grassroots trade unions assume many jobs so they don’t have much time for this job. Their skills as trade union leaders are also very poor, Chinh said.

He also said that the rules on compensating companies for losses caused by illegal strikes are unfeasible. For example, a company in HCM City lodged a case with the court but its petition was rejected because it was unable to define the major subject of the lawsuit among 10,000 workers participating in the strike.

Since the amended Labour Code took effect on July 1, 2007, illegal strikes have continued to increase in number.

Under the current law, labourers are not allowed to go on strike in conflicts of rights but must bring the conflict to court. They can go on strike if conflicts of interest are not solved by negotiations. Labourers must compensate their employers if the court finds that their strikes were illegal.

Trade Union Problems in Vietnam
1 June 1995

Vietnam's labor codes went into effect January 1, 1995. One provision states that a strike by workers is to be decided by the trade union committee once more than half the workers have voted for one. Looking back at recent strikes it is apparent that this has not been the case. Just in Ho Chi Minh City and two provinces, Dong Nai and Song-Be, alone, there have been 14 labor strikes since the beginning of the year. Yet all those strikes were organized by the workers themselves, with all the unions standing by. Why?

Trade Union Unable to Create Confidence

There have many opinions that recent labor strikes have been organized by the workers themselves, bypassing the [state-sponsored] trade unions, due to the general lack of understanding of the labor laws. In fact, this is only one of the underlying causes. The other reason is the loss of trust and confidence of workers in the official trade unions. The reality of these strikes showed clearly that the unions involved were too weak. Almost all the unions were unable to perform their functions, with some union leaders unwilling to voice the concerns of workers. At some companies such as Mountech in Ho Chi Minh City, a union had been formed for a year but was not yet active. Many workers, when asked who their union presidents are, were unable to give an answer. Many, further still, did not even know their particular company had an organized union. It is because unions have been unable to perform their duty as workers'representatives that many violations against workers have been unprevented. In the end, workers have had to save themselves by staging their own strikes. The strikes have been occurring not only at the local level, but also at the national level, where trade union activities are also weak. The strike staged by 600 workers at a garment company in Dong-Nai occurred after the workers had endured ten to twelve hour workdays routinely, and sometimes even ones up to 24 hours. Many workers were reported to have fainted at their work stations. In light of this situation, the company's union representatives should have stood up and demanded that management conforms to the newly-passed labor laws. Yet, regretfully, those representatives elected to ignore the violations, even going as far as consenting with management.

If this is the situation at companies where unions are organized, what about those in which no union has been formed? The role of organized trade unions in protecting workers' rights here [in Vietnam] is diminishing every day and is practically nonexistent. It is not uncommon for unions to show up only when the press has publicized an ongoing strike. The lack of communication, of strategy, and the "tardiness" of the unions have costed them the respect of workers. This is the reason they have been unable to influence the working masses.

To Avoid Being on the Sideline

In reality, the strikes staged by workers violate the current labor laws, which place substantial responsibilities on the trade unions. The question is how to avoid having the unions be left on the sideline and, in the process, avoiding many strikes and, in the event of a strike, making the work stoppage legal.

Giving the many strikes that have taken place, the first difficulty the unions must overcome is continually monitoring and understanding the needs and concerns of the workers. The close monitoring must occur at the central to local level. To grasp the concerns of workers, unions must be able to earn the confidence of workers. This confidence and trust can only be instilled by concrete, practical actions on the part of the unions. The workers must feel their union is a place they can rely on. In places where no union has been formed, the existing unions at higher levels (i.e. the provincial or city level) must monitor and coordinate with the respective inspecting agencies and, at the same time, organize temporary union committee members. This task must go hand in hand with the effort to deal with new issues in labor relations. In reality, many strikes stemmed from small conflicts, which have not resolved in time. If unions act as the workers' representative and take steps to resolve and negotiate problems, results will be successful in most cases. This will not only allowed labor conflicts to be solved by legal means, but also to prevent regrettable consequences.

But in some cases (eg. in foreign-owned companies), the local union may not have the experience and expertise to perform its functions. Therefore, the most important task for the local unions is to report the situation to higher union committee members in a fast manner. To minimize illegal strikes, the responsible agencies must ensure that workers know the current labor codes and regulations. Even so, if the various union committee members perform their duties accordingly, it is certain that the current situation will improve and that workers' rights will be more fully protected in a timely manner.

LabourStart Vietnam

Viet Nam Embassy in the USA
22 August 2006
More than 289 strikes was recorded from January to May 2006, a strong indication of Industrialization and Urbanization, which has led the National Assembly to discuss ways to improve the labor Code relating to a labor-management dialogue and improve mechanisms that can address employee concerns.
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