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Free trade agreements help Vietnam's labour rights reform

Jul '19
Pic: Shutterstock
Pic: Shutterstock
The European Union (EU)–Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) signed late last month includes commitments to implement International Labour Organisation (ILO) core standards. Vietnam is now revising its Labour Code, which, if adopted, will represent major progress towards alignment with the ILO 1988 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.

The country also ratified one of the three remaining ILO core conventions—Convention 98 on collective bargaining—earlier this year. It is working towards the ratification of Convention 105 on forced labour in 2020, and Convention 87 on freedom of association by 2023, according to a Vietnamese newspaper report.

The draft revised Labour Code has three provisions on the establishment of workers’ associations. In particular, workers have the right to join or form a representative organisation of their choosing, and the law also introduces clearer processes and encouragement for collective bargaining.

According to a recently-published Oxfam study on Vietnamese garment workers' wages and living conditions, 99 per cent of Vietnamese garment workers surveyed earn below Asia's living wage proposed by the Asian Floor Wage and 74 per cent of them earn below the global living wage proposed by the Global Living Wage Coalition.

According to the study, Vietnam’s statutory minimum wage is far below what a person needs to cover the essentials. Even the wages most garment workers earn on top of the minimum wage fall short of what is considered a living wage. The national average minimum wage in Vietnam is VNÐ3.34 million, which is around 37 per cent of the Asia Floor Wage and 64 per cent of the Global Living Wage Coalition benchmark.

Workers’ wages are being kept low, so manufacturers can reduce prices for international buyers, who always seek the cheapest option. The priority of profit over workers’ livelihoods causes many factories to cut costs by not conducting enough health checks and reducing the cost of their employees' meals, the Oxfam report said.

Trade unions’ lack of bargaining skills and power, as well as exhaustion and potential loss of jobs, are the hindrances for the workers to raise their voices and fight for their rights.

Currently in Vi?t Nam, there is only one legally recognised system of trade unions. The organisation of trade unions is prescribed by the Charter of Vietnamese Trade Unions adopted by the Vi?t Nam General Confederation of Labour (VGCL).

ILO international labour standards require that trade unions must be independent of authorities in both organisational operation and financial issues; and trade unions must also be independent of employers in carrying out their activities.

In Vi?t Nam, trade unions are defined in the Constitution 2013 as socio-political organisations of the working class, and in reality are strongly reliant on the state in terms of both financial support and personnel management. That explains the shortcomings of trade unions in protecting workers’ rights. (DS)

Fibre2Fashion News Desk – India

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