Last Updated: Friday, 31 October 2014, 13:33 GMT

2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Vietnam

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 9 June 2010
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Vietnam, 9 June 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c4fec4e3b0.html [accessed 31 October 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 88,100,000
Capital: Hanoi
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 100 – 111 – 138 – 182

The official trade union confederation has been criticised on all sides for its ineffectiveness. The government continues to victimise independent trade unions.

Trade union rights in law

There are many obstacles to the free enjoyment of trade union rights. Workers may not organise or join unions of their choosing, as all unions must be approved by and affiliate with the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour (VGCL) and operate under its umbrella. The VGCL, on its part, is under the leadership of the ruling party. Individual unions can only affiliate with, join or participate in international labour bodies if approved by the VGCL. While VGCL-affiliated unions have the right to bargain collectively, the right to strike is severely restricted. The voting thresholds for calling a strike are prohibitively high, and all strikes must relate to collective labour disputes or concern industrial relations. Furthermore, strikes that involve more than one enterprise are illegal, as are strikes called in public services or state-owned enterprises. Strikes are also banned in sectors considered important to the national economy and defence, a definition which currently covers a total of 54 sectors. The Prime Minister can suspend a strike considered detrimental to the national economy or public security. Finally, if a strike is ruled illegal, the union and the individuals involved are liable for compensation to the employer for "losses and damages".

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2009

Background: Vietnam is still under the single party rule of the Communist Party. Repression of any sign of dissidence is being stepped up in the run-up to its next congress, in January 2011.

No freedom of association: Workers do not have the right to form or join a trade union that is not affiliated to the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour (VGCL), the official labour confederation controlled by the Communist Party. A new generation of trade unionists is emerging however, who do not have such close links to the party, notably in the post and telecommunications sector.

Official labour confederation criticised for its ineffectiveness: Strikes in Vietnam are usually called by informal groups of workers, even where there is a VGCL (Vietnam General Confederation of Labour) union delegation. The local authorities and representatives of the official union usually try to hold negotiations between workers and management. However the VGCL mainly takes the interests of the government and the enterprise into account during negotiations. In February, several representatives of the authorities called for a review of the labour legislation in order to clarify the roles and responsibilities of the trade unions. The deputy-director of the Ho Chi Minh City Export Processing and Industrial Zone Authority (HEPZA) explained that workers go on wild cat strikes because the procedures for organising a legitimate strike were too complicated and because workers considered that strikes were the only way to claim their rights and that most of the local trade unions did not fulfil their role of representing members and protecting their rights.

Court cases lead to dead end: Workers who want to claim the respect of their rights in court face numerous obstacles, including the slowness and cost of the proceedings, and even the absence of an employment contract. When the Thu Duc (Ho Chi Minh City) district union wanted to bring a case on behalf of 70 workers at the Hai Vinh Co. factory against their management, it turned out that most of them did not have an employment contract, even though it is a legal obligation. In other cases employment contracts were signed, but the workers did not get a copy.

Union representatives often co-opted: The ability of unions that are affiliated to the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour (VGCL) to effectively bargain with management is handicapped by the fact that at many private enterprises, VGCL representatives are either considered by the workers to be close to management or are actually management officials.

Drop in the number of wildcat strikes: Despite the restrictions on strike action, 216 wild cat strikes (illegal under the terms of the Labour Code) were carried out in 2009, which was 70% less than in 2008 according to government figures. This fall in the number of wildcat strikes was not due to an improvement in the workers' situation however, but rather owing to their fear of losing their jobs in the wake of the world economic crisis. According to the government, most strikes took place in foreign-owned enterprises and were in protest at long working hours for low wages, as well as the violation of rights set out in the employment contract.

Two workers' rights activists released: Tran Thi Le Hong, one of the founders and representatives of the United Worker-Farmers Organisation of Vietnam (UWFO) was released in February. She had been sentenced to three years imprisonment for "abusing democratic freedoms". Huynh Viet Lang, a member of the Democratic People's Party who had published an article in 2006 criticising workers' rights violations in Vietnam, was released in February after spending 30 months in detention, but Human Rights Watch notes that he will remain under close supervision for two years, which is tantamount to house arrest.

Tran Khai Than Thuy re-arrested: Tran Khai Than Thuy, a renowned journalist, has been subjected to several periods of detention and house arrest since becoming one of the founders in 2006 of the Independent Workers' Union. According to Human Rights Watch, she was beaten by thugs and uniformed police on 8 October, after trying to attend the trial of other dissidents in Hanoi and Haiphong. She was arrested and accused of "intentionally causing injury or damaging the health of other persons". At the end of the year she was awaiting trial.

At least three independent activists still in detention: In May a Human Rights Watch report documented the government's repression of activists who tried to create independent trade unions. The report recalls that since 2006 at least eight independent activists have been sentenced to prison on dubious national security charges. Three of them were still in prison at the end of 2009: Doan Van Dien, one of the founders of the the United Worker-Farmers Organisation of Vietnam (UWFO), Tran Quoc Hien, UWFO spokesperson, and Le Thi Cong Nhan, a lawyer and multi-party democracy campaigner. During her trial she was accused of "fallacious interpretation" of government policies on labour unions. Her articles on the internet criticised national legislation that allowed for arbitrary detention, prevented the creation of independent trade unions and the exercise of the right to strike. Le Thi Cong Nhan is being held in Yen Dinh prison, 150km south of Hanoi.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

Search Refworld

Countries