United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Vietnam, 30 January 1995, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa4a8.html [accessed 1 February 2015]
This 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.
VIETNAM The Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV) is a one-party state controlled by the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP). The VCP's constitutionally mandated leading role and the occupancy of nearly all senior Government positions by Party officials ensures the primacy of Politburo guidelines. The National Assembly, chosen in elections in which all candidates are approved by the Party, remains largely subservient to the VCP. However, an effort is underway to reduce Party intrusion into Government operations and Government officials have more latitude in implementing policy. The Government continued to restrict individual liberties on national security and other grounds. The military is responsible for external defense and has no direct role in maintaining internal security. The Ministry of Interior is responsible for internal security, employing a large border defense force and the police to monitor persons suspected of involvement in unauthorized political or religious activities. The Government continued to monitor the general populace through informants, household registration, and party-appointed block wardens, but apparently reduced somewhat the extent of such monitoring to concentrate on those suspected of engaging, or likely to engage, in political or religious activities opposed by the Government. The Government continued the market-oriented economic reforms begun in 1986 to try to modernize and develop the predominantly agricultural economy. The reforms have had the greatest impact in urban areas, where private businesses are increasing, and in fertile agricultural regions where farmers have incentives to grow and market their produce. Although Vietnam remains very poor, particularly in marginal rural areas, the reforms have helped raise most people's standard of living. Also, private sector growth has made it more difficult for the Party and the Government to dominate people's lives, particularly in urban areas, to the extent they did in the past. Nonetheless, the Government was responsible for continued human rights violations in 1994. Vietnamese citizens did not have the right to change their government or to assemble, associate, or speak freely. The Government continued to prohibit establishment of an independent press and independent organizations. It also maintained its longstanding policy of not tolerating dissent. Despite some progress in developing a legal infrastructure, Vietnam does not yet enjoy the rule of law. The judicial system is not independent, and the judicial process lacks transparency. However, citizens enjoyed greater freedom to travel and change their residence, to engage in economic activity, and to initiate labor strikes. Within narrow boundaries, the Government tolerated and even welcomed serious press and public debate and criticism --including occasional public protest--primarily with regard to corruption and mismanagement.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There were no reports of political killings. Little information is available on the number of deaths in police custody or on official investigations into such incidents, but some extrajudicial killings do occur. In at least 2 instances, killings were acknowledged and legal action was taken against the perpetrators. The Vietnamese press reported in September that the Institute of People's Investigation in Quang Ninh province had decided to take legal action against police officials in Ha Long City for reportedly beating a suspected thief to death. In October, following a public outcry, a Hanoi court tried and convicted policeman for robbing and shooting to death an innocent passerby.
There were no documented incidents of political abductions by Government security organizations or by antigovernment forces.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The law prohibits physical abuse and torture. However, there were credible reports of inhuman treatment in the penal system, although the lack of access to jails and prisons makes any conclusive judgments impossible. There were no credible reports of torture of detainees. Authorities reportedly did use threats and other psychological coercion to elicit confessions. Prison conditions are severe but do not generally threaten the lives of prisoners. There were credible reports of the use of forced labor. Prisoners doing hard labor complained that the diet and health care available at the prisons was insufficient to sustain their health, especially when they were detained in remote, disease-ridden areas. Credible reports indicate that well-known dissident Dr. Doan Viet Hoat, who is in poor health, was shackled, placed in solitary confinement, and denied visits from his wife after refusing to carry out hard labor in a remote prison camp near the Laotian border. In July prison officials eventually allowed Dr. Hoat's wife to visit, but she reported she was given only 15 minutes to see him and said that prison authorities harassed her. According to unconfirmed reports, four Buddhist monks imprisoned in Ba Sao reeducation camp near Hanoi conducted a hunger strike to protest prison conditions. In both cases, SRV authorities denied the reports but refused to allow international observers to visit the prisoners.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
Little information is available on the extent to which families and attorneys have access to criminal and political prisoners. Anecdotal evidence indicates that they generally are able to visit. Diplomats had limited access to imprisoned nationals. The Government continued to arrest and imprison people arbitrarily. Although the 1989 Criminal Procedure Code provides for various rights for detainees, including time limits on pretrial detention and the right to have a lawyer present during negotiation, in practice authorities often ignore these legal safeguards. Law enforcement personnel appear able to arrest and incarcerate people without presenting arrest warrants. In cases where a warrant is presented, the procurator rather than an independent judiciary approves issuance of warrants. Once arrested, people are often held for indefinite periods without formal charges and without access to a lawyer. There is no functioning bail system, and detainees do not have the right to judicial determination of the legality of their detention. The extent to which authorities hold detainees incommunicado is unknown. Two Vietnamese-Americans, Nguyen Tan Tri and Tran Quang Liem, were arrested in November 1993 for trying to organize a democracy conference in Ho Chi Minh City. At year's end, they had not been charged but were still being detained. Those arrested for peaceful expression of their views are likely to be charged under any one of several provisions in the Criminal Code outlawing acts against the State. For example, authorities arrested Pham Van Quang in December 1992 for waving the former Republic of Vietnam flag during the Ho Chi Minh City international marathon. In February 1994, Quang was tried and convicted of "rebellion" and was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment. According to press reports, Buddhist monk Vo Hanh Duc, arrested following disturbances involving Buddhists in Ba Ria-Vung Tau province in July 1993, was sentenced to 3 years in prison in January for "activities against the law" and "handing out documents hostile to the Socialist Government of Vietnam."There are no reliable figures on the number of political detainees being held since the Government often does not publicize arrests and frequently conducts secret trials and sentencing. The Government does not use exile as a means of political control.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The court system consists of local people's courts, military tribunals, and the Supreme People's Court, an appellate court. In addition, local mass organizations are empowered to deal with minor breaches of law or disputes, and the National Assembly in late 1993 approved the establishment of economic courts to hear commercial disputes. While the Constitution provides for the independence of judges and jurors, in practice the VCP closely controls the courts at all levels, selecting judges primarily for political reliability. Credible reports indicate that Party officials, including top leaders, instruct courts how to rule on politically important cases. The procurator determines, based on a police investigation, whether to prosecute or to release the accused. The procurator serves as both prosecutor and supervisor of the trial proceedings. A two-person judging council, made up of a judge and a people's juror (lay judge), determines guilt or innocence and also passes sentence on the convicted. The President appoints judges. The relevant people's council appoints people's jurors, who are to be people of high moral standards but who are not required to have legal training. Trials are open to the public, although the procurator has the right to close trials in sensitive cases. Defendants have the right to be present during their trial, and the defendant or his lawyer has the right to cross-examine witnesses. Little information is available on the extent to which defendants and their lawyers have time to prepare for trials and obtain access to government evidence. Although Vietnam has made some progress in establishing a legal system, many judges and other court officials lack adequate legal training, and the lack of openness in the judicial process, coupled with judicial subservience to the executive branch, continue to block the emergence of a fair and effective judicial system. There is no reliable information on the total number of political prisoners in Vietnam. Anti-SRV exile groups have claimed there are as many as 1,000 political prisoners in the country; other reliable sources put the figure closer to 200. The secrecy surrounding the Vietnamese judicial and prison systems makes it difficult for outside observers to make an accurate estimate. Several persons are known to be in prison for peaceful expression of their views. For example, Doan Thanh Liem is currently serving a 12-year labor camp sentence for spreading anti-Socialist propaganda. Truong Hung Thai, arrested with Liem, is serving an 8-year sentence. Doan Van Hoat is serving a 15-year sentence for "counterrevolutionary" activity. Human rights activist Nguyen Dan Que, sentenced to 20 years imprisonment in 1991, remains in prison despite his poor health. In 1994 the Government released a number of well-known political prisoners, including the well-known dissident Quach Vinh Nien. Nien, who was allowed to join his family abroad, had been in prison since 1978 serving a life sentence for "antigovernment activity and disloyalty."
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The Government continued to operate a nationwide system of surveillance and control through household registration and party-appointed block wardens who use informants to keep track of individual activities. However, many foreign observers believe this monitoring was done with less scope and efficiency than in the past, with authorities concentrating on those suspected of involvement in unauthorized political or religious activities. Anecdotal evidence suggests Government monitoring is stricter in the south, especially in Ho Chi Minh City. Particularly in urban areas, most Vietnamese citizens were free to contact, talk, and work with foreigners, although many remained nervous about extensive social contacts. The Government continued to selectively censor mail, confiscate packages, and monitor telephone and facsimile transmissions. In the past, the Party pressed people to belong to one or more mass organizations, which exist for villages, city districts, schools, work (trade unions), youth, and women. However, with the growth of the private sector, these organizations play a less important role than in the past. While membership in the VCP remains an aid to advancement in the Government or in state companies, and vital to promotion to senior levels of the Government, the Party faced increased difficulty attracting members. In response, the Government increased its recruitment efforts and was marginally successful in attracting new members from the private sector. The Government continued to implement a family-planning policy that urges all families to have no more than two children. It sometimes penalized people who have more than two children by denying promotions or permission to change jobs.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, but in practice the Government severaly limits such freedoms. The Party and the Government tolerated public discussion and even criticism somewhat more than in the past, though still within narrow and poorly defined limits. For example, Vietnamese citizens could and did complain openly about bureaucratic lethargy, administrative procedures, corruption, and even economic policy. However, the Government continued to clamp down on free speech that questioned the role of the Party, criticized individual SRV leaders, promoted multiparty democracy, or discussed sensitive matters such as human rights. For example, credible nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) reported that in March, the authorities arrested Nguyen Ho, a southern Party figure, for writing and circulating an article calling for greater democracy and respect for human rights in Vietnam. In poor health, he was released in June and at year's end remained at home under surveillance. The Government did not use systematic prior censorship to control the media, but Party guidance was pervasive, and national security legislation remained sufficiently broad to ensure effective self-censorship in the domestic media. The Government continued to control the domestic print media, but new newspapers were approved for publication and investigative reporting of corruption and mismanagement increased. In addition, there was some debate on economic policy with political overtones. Restrictions against new publications by dissident writers remained in force. The Party and the Government continued to control the broadcast media and did not normally permit the broadcast of opposing views. The Government made no effort to limit access to international radio or television, which many Vietnamese listen to regularly. Vietnamese television and radio frequently carried interviews with and speeches by foreigners, including diplomats and businessmen, and foreign publications continued to be widely available. Although the Government announced its intention to control satellite dishes more strictly, they appear to be proliferating. Foreign journalists must be approved by the Foreign Ministry's press center. The center monitors their activities and decides on a case-by-case basis whether to send a press center representative to accompany journalists covering specific events. The trend toward increased information flow appeared to extend into the university system. Foreign scholars working temporarily at Vietnamese universities said they were able to discuss freely a wide range of issues, including human rights, in the classroom. Vietnamese academic publications, however, usually reflect the views of the Party and the Government.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Government restricts the right of assembly in law and practice. People wishing to gather in a group are required to apply for a permit, which local authorities can deny arbitrarily. However, people routinely gathered in an informal groups. The Government does not usually interfere as long as the gatherings are not organized. Normally, the Government does not permit demonstrations or meetings for political purposes, but has been more tolerant than in the past of occasional popular demonstrations about specific grievances against local officials. With few exceptions, the Government prohibits the establishment of private, independent organizations, insisting that individuals work within established, party-controlled organizations. Vietnamese citizens cannot establish independent political parties, religious organizations, labor unions, business or veterans' organizations.
c. Freedom of Religion
Although the Constitution provides for freedom of worship, the Government continued to restrict religious organizations significantly. The Party forbids its officials to adhere to a religion, although it appears to have relaxed enforcement of this rule. The Government continued to ease restrictions on the practice of religion in 1994. The Party and the Government continued policies designed to control religious hierarchies and organized religious activities, in part because the Government perceives that religion may threaten the Party's monopoly of influence. All religious groups report continued difficulties in obtaining teaching materials, expanding religious training facilities, and publishing materials. The Government requires all Buddhist monks to work under the Government-controlled Buddhist organization's umbrella. The Government has actively suppressed recent efforts by the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) to operate outside of Government control. The Government has arrested Buddhists who have pushed for an independent organization, and it has harshly criticized the UBCV in a series of speeches and publications, calling it a tool of reactionary exiles. The tension between the Government and the UBCV, which had escalated in 1993 with public demonstrations and the arrest of Buddhist monks and followers in Hue and Ba Ria-Vung Tau province, continued in 1994. The UBCV's leader, the Venerable Thich Huyen Quang, called on his followers to step up their fight against the Government's domination of religion. Despite SRV claims to the contrary, credible reports indicated that Quang remained under house arrest in Quang Ngai province for most of the year. In late December, Buddhist organizations abroad reported that the Venerable Thich Huyen Quang and the Venerable Thich Quang Do had been arrested for their activities. Four monks imprisoned in 1993 after disturbances in Hue reportedly began a hunger strike at the Ba Sao reeducation camp. There was also an unconfirmed report that in July the Venerable Thich Hunh Duc began a hunger strike in Phuoclo prison in Ba Ria to protest his prison sentence and the postponement of his appeal. Subsequently, his appeal was rescheduled and his sentence reaffirmed. In a marked improvement from the 1980's, people appear free to attend worship services, and attendance at religious services continued to increase. Catholic churches in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, as well as Buddhist temples and Hoa Hao and Cao Dai edifices in the south, appear active. Also, in July the Government issued Directive 1379 which called for the authorities to allow the restoration of places of religious worship, allow the printing of religious books in accordance with the law, and create favorable conditions for religious denominations to train their missionaries at religious training centers approved by the Government. It is unclear what impact this Directive will have on religious freedom. The Government has sought to control the Catholic Church hierarchy in Vietnam, in part by requiring all clergy to belong to the government-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association. It has also insisted on its right to approve Vatican appointments, and as a result key church positions remained unfilled for long periods. The Vatican has acceded to the Government's demand that it approve Vatican appointments. As a result, increasing numbers of vacant clerical positions were filled, including bishops and archbishops. In mid-1994 the Vatican and the SRV reached agreement on the appointments of Bishop Tung of Bac Ninh to be Archbishop of Hanoi and Nguyen Nhu The as Apostolic Administrator for the Archdiocese of Hue. The Vactican's reassignment of Bishop Nguyen Van Thuan opens the way to appoint a successor to the ailing Bishop of Ho Chi Minh City. The Government has slightly eased some restrictions on Catholic Church activities while maintaining control of its hierarchy and restricting training of new clergy. In March the Government declared that bishops and priests could travel freely in their dioceses and that priests released from reeducation camps could carry out religious duties if local authorities agreed. Five training seminaries are now open, with 120-150 students. All students must be approved by the Government, both upon entering the seminary and prior to ordination as priests. The Christian Missionary Alliance of Vietnam, the only government-approved Protestant organization in the country, enjoyed slightly greater freedom. Church attendance grew despite continued Government restrictions on proselytizing activities. NGO's reported the arrest of several Hmong protestants for proselytizing in northern Vietnamese villages. The Government has allowed the Alliance to open a Bible college in Danang and to reestablish ties with foreign religious groups.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
Most citizens enjoyed greater freedom to travel within the country. In general, the Government no longer requires permits to travel across provincial lines and in practice enforces few restrictions on internal travel. However, there were credible reports of members of ethnic minorities being required to obtain permission from local authorities to travel outside of certain highland areas. Officially, citizens must obtain permission to change their residence, but many people have done so without approval. Foreigners are free to travel throughout the country. Foreigners are generally free to travel througout the country, although the Government must approve travel by foreigners to border areas, some areas in the central highlands, and some islands. Local authorities have sometimes been willing to allow foreigners to travel to the border without permission. The Government still requires citizens traveling abroad to obtain exit visas but is more willing to grant those visas than in the past. For example, the well-known dissident writer, Dinh Thu Huong, was allowed for the first time to travel to conferences in Europe in the fall. However, not everyone is allowed to travel abroad. For example, members of Vietnam's small Muslim community have not been allowed to leave the country to make the hajj. The Government continued to permit emigration for some categories of Vietnamese. The U.S. Orderly Departure Program continued to resettle beneficiaries, including Amerasians, former reeducation camp detainees, and family unification cases, at the rate of about 4,000 persons per month. Other nations operate smaller resettlement programs for Vietnamese nationals. There are some concerns that members of minority ethnic groups, particularly highland peoples such as the Montagnards, may not have ready access to these programs. The Government generally permits Vietnamese who emigrate to return to visit but it considers them citizens and therefore subject to Vietnamese law even if they have adopted another country's citizenship. Because it regards overseas Vietnamese both as a valuable potential source of foreign exchange and expertise and as a potential security threat, the Government generally encourages them to visit Vietnam, whether they emigrated legally or illegally, but at the same time it monitors them carefully. In 1989 Vietnam signed a memorandum of understanding with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to increase acceptance of voluntary repatriates, provided there was financial assistance. The agreement included a commitment by Vietnam to waive prosecution and punitive measures for illegal departure from Vietnam of persons who return under the UNHCR voluntary repatriation program. Vietnam also agreed to permit the UNHCR to monitor the returnees through direct visits. This agreement has resulted in a substantial flow of repatriates from several countries to Vietnam. More than 65,000 Vietnamese have returned voluntarily. The UNHCR, which extensively monitors those who have repatriated voluntarily, reported that they do not face retribution or official discrimination. Although the source of refugees itself in the past, Vietnam has also been the country of first asylum for Cambodian refugees, mainly ethnic Chinese, but also ethnic Vietnamese. The Government has worked closely with the UNHCR in repatriating those desiring to return to Cambodia. There were no reports of forced repatriation.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
Citizens are not free to change their government. All authority and political power is vested in the VCP; political opposition and other political parties are not tolerated. The Central Committee is the supreme decisionmaking body in the nation, and the Politburo is the locus of policymaking. The Secretariat of the Central Committee oversees day-to-day implementation of leadership directives. Debate and criticism are limited to certain aspects of individual, state, or Party performance determined by the VCP itself. No public challenge to the legitimacy of the one-party state, or even debate on this subject, is permitted. Citizens elect the members of the National Assembly, ostensibly the chief legislative body, although the VCP approves all candidates. The National Assembly engaged in increasingly vigorous debate on economic and social issues, but it remained largely subservient to the VCP. Legislators rewrote laws, questioned ministries, and occasionally rejected draft legislation. However, Party officials occupy most senior Government positions and continued to have final say on key issues. The law provides the opportunity for equal participation in politics by women and minority groups, but in practice they are underrepresented. Most of the senior leaders, including all 17 members of the Politburo, are male. The President of the National Assembly, who is also a Politburo member, is a member of an ethnic minority.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
The Government does not permit private human rights organizations to form or operate and generally prohibits private citizens from contacting international human rights organizations. It has permitted international visitors to monitor implementation of its repatriation commitments under the Comprehensive Plan of Action agreed on at the 1989 Geneva Conference, and it has carried on a limited dialog with human rights organizations. In October a delegation from the UNHRC was permitted to visit prisons; a report is expected in early 1995. The Government has shown increased willingness to discuss human rights issues bilaterally with other governments if such discussions take place under the rubric of "exchanges of ideas" rather than "investigations." However, in July it canceled the visit of an Australian human rights delegation when an ethnic Vietnamese member of that delegation said publicly that the group would be "investigating" the human rights situation in Vietnam.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status
People released from reeducation camps have reported varying levels of discrimination in the areas of housing and education. They generally are not eligible to regain their citizenship rights until 1 year after their release. They and their families are not allowed employment with the Government, though this was less a factor in 1994 than in the past because of the growth of the private sector.
While there is no legal discrimination, women face deeply engrained social discrimination. Despite extensive provisions in the Constitution, legislation, and regulations that mandate equal treatment, few women can compete with men for higher status positions. The Government has not enforced the constitutional provision that women and men must receive equal pay for equal work. Despite the large body of legislation and regulations devoted to the protection of women's rights in marriage, the workplace, and the new labor law calling for the preferential treatment of women, these legal pronouncements are distant from the reality for many, if not most, women. Although the law addresses the issue of domestic violence, there is credible evidence that these laws are not enforced. A 1993 report by a Vietnamese researcher stated that domestic violence has grown in recent years. Some international NGO workers as well as many Vietnamese women have commented that domestic violence against women is common. Most divorces are due to domestic violence. Many women remain in abusive marriages rather than confront the stigma of divorce. These problems tend to be more prevalent in rural than in urban areas.
Reputable international organizations, including the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), commended the Government's interest in children's issues and its promotion of child welfare. The Government has continued a nationwide immunization campaign, and the government-controlled press regularly stresses the importance of health and education for all children. Despite some success, UNICEF estimates there are still 3 million children living in "especially difficult circumstances." There is no information on the extent of child abuse.
Although the Government says it is opposed to discrimination against ethnic minorities, there continued to be credible reports that some local officials restricted ethnic minority access to education, employment, and travel, both internal and foreign. The Government continued to implement policies designed to narrow the gap in the standard of living between ethnic groups living in the highlands and lowland ethnic Vietnamese by providing preferential treatment to domestic and foreign companies investing in highland areas. There is no information available on whether repression of some highland minorities for suspected ties with resistance groups, reported in the past, continued in 1994.
People with Disabilities
The Government provides little official protection or support for the disabled, and there are no laws mandating access for the disabled. However, the 1994 Labor Law calls on the State to protect the right and encourage the employment of the disabled and includes provisions for preferential treatment for firms that recruit disabled persons for training or apprenticeship and a special levy on firms that do not employ disabled workers. It is not yet clear whether the Government has begun to enforce these provisions. The Government has permitted international groups to assist those who have been disabled by war or by subsequent accidents involving unexploded ordinance.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
Workers are not free to form or join unions of their own choosing unless they have obtained approval from the local trade union federation office. The party-controlled Vietnam General Confederation of Labor (VGCI) is the umbrella organization under which all local trade unions must operate. The Labor Law requires provincial trade union organizations to establish unions at all new enterprises as well as at existing enterprises that currently operate without trade unions. Management of union-affiliated companies is required to accept and cooperate with those unions. However, most joint ventures and small, private companies, especially at the retail level, do not have unions. The June 1994 Labor Law provides for the right to strike under certain circumstances. It calls for management and labor to resolve labor disputes through the enterprise's own labor conciliation council. If that fails, the matter goes to the provincial labor arbitration council. If the council's decision is unsatisfactory, unions have the right to appeal to the provincial people's court or to strike. However, the law prohibits strikes at enterprises that serve the public and at those that are important to the national economy or to national security and defense, as defined by the Government. It also grants the Prime Minister the right to suspend a strike considered detrimental to the national economy or to public safety. A number of strikes occurred in 1994, primarily against foreign-owned companies but also involving state-owned and private firms as well. The Government tolerated the strikes, even though some occurred before the new Labor Law made them legal. The new Labor Law prohibits retribution against strikers, and there have been no credible reports of such retribution. Unions are not legally free to, and do not in practice, join, affiliate with, or participate in international labor bodies. However, in 1992, Vietnam rejoined the International Labor Organization, from which it had withdrawn in 1985.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Workers have the right to organize unions in their enterprises, but they must be approved by the local union leadership. They also can bargain collectively through the party-approved unions at their enterprises. In the past, the Government generally set wages, since most people worked for state companies. With the growth of the private sector and the increased autonomy of state firms, a growing percentage of companies are setting wages through collective bargaining with the relevant unions, and market forces play a much more important role in determining wages. Antiunion discrimination on the part of employers against employees seeking to organize is forbidden in the labor code. The Government has approved formation of a number of export processing zones and new industrial zones, which are governed by the same labor laws as apply to the rest of the country.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The new Labor Law prohibits all forms of forced labor, and there have been no reports of such practices, except in some detention facilities.
d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
The Labor Law sets the minimum age for employment at 15. Children as young as 13 can register at trade training centers, which are a form of vocational training. Vietnam also has compulsory education laws. These laws are not effectively enforced, especially in rural areas where children are needed to farm. However, the Vietnamese culture's strong emphasis on education leads most people to send their children to school, rather than to work.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The Labor Law requires the Government to set a minimum wage, which changes with inflation and other economic changes. The Government does not publicize minimum wage rates. The minimum wage, including for those working for joint ventures, is by itself insufficient to provide a worker and his family with a decent standard of living. However, many workers receive subsidized housing, bonuses, and also supplement their incomes by engaging in entrepreneurial activities. The Government enforces the minimum wage at foreign and major Vietnamese firms. It has little control over other wages. The Labor Law sets working hours at a maximum of 8 per day and 48 per week, with a mandatory 24-hour break each week. Any additional hours require overtime pay, and the law limits compulsory overtime. It is not clear how well the Government enforces these provisions. The Labor Law calls on the Government to promulgate rules and regulations to ensure worker safety. The Ministry of Labor, in coordination with local people's committees and labor unions, is charged with enforcing the regulations. In practice, enforcement is inadequate because of the Ministry's insufficient resources. Anecdotal evidence indicates that workers, through labor unions, have been more effective in forcing changes in working conditions than has the Government.