Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 May 2016, 08:28 GMT

The Global State of Workers' Rights - Vietnam

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 31 August 2010
Cite as Freedom House, The Global State of Workers' Rights - Vietnam, 31 August 2010, available at: [accessed 26 May 2016]
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.

Very Repressive

The 1994 labor code introduced the first formal set of labor laws in Vietnam. It was an important component of the country's effort to open its economy, attract foreign investment, and expand trade with major overseas markets, such as the United States and the European Union. In 1992, Vietnam joined the International Labour Organization and has since ratified a number of conventions, including those on child labor, discrimination, and equal remuneration. The labor code was amended in 2002 to provide for union recognition and collective bargaining. However, there is only one legal labor union federation in the country, the Vietnam General Conference of Labor (VGCL), and all unions are required to join it. The VGCL is closely tied to the ruling Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP), and all top leaders in federation must be VCP members. The U.S. State Department and international labor research groups estimate that the VGCL has about 5.2 million members, including some 95 percent of public-sector workers, 90 percent of state-enterprise workers, and the majority of private-sector workers. Union membership is high because workers are automatically members of trade or company unions at their workplace.

Strikes must be approved by the state and are legally permitted if they do not threaten national security. In reality, the process of obtaining approval is so complicated that not one of the more than 2,300 strikes since 2005 has been officially approved. Virtually all were wildcat strikes by workers who were dissatisfied by low wages and unfair or harsh working conditions, and who did not trust their union representatives to bargain in good faith. Labor experts say that the government allows these strikes – mainly against foreign-owned firms – because they give workers an opportunity to demand higher wages without forcing the government raise the minimum wage and potentially dissuade foreign investment. Enforcement of labor laws is weak. Labor activists are known to face harassment by the state, including house arrests and surveillance; some have been imprisoned for "inciting demonstrations" and distributing "distorted information."

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