Last Updated: Friday, 19 January 2018, 17:46 GMT

2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Vietnam

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 6 June 2012
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Vietnam, 6 June 2012, available at: [accessed 20 January 2018]
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: 87,800,000
Capital: Hanoi

ILO Core Conventions Ratified:

100 (Equal Remuneration for Work of Equal Value (1951))
111 (Discrimination in Employment and Occupation (1958))
138 (Minimum Age for Employment (1973))
182 (Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (1999))

Reported Violations – 2012

Imprisonments: 3
Dismissals: 3

Documented violations – actual number of cases may be higher


The right to freedom of association and to collectively bargaining remains substantially restricted in Vietnam. In many cases, official trade unions are dominated by management at the enterprise level. This, and the failure of dispute settlement mechanisms to provide an effective channel to redress grievances, has led non-union workers to organize wildcat strikes. Since 2009, the government and the Vietnam General Confederation of Labor (VGCL) have worked on redrafting the Labour Code and Trade Union Law respectively, though as of the end of 2011 no proposals were finalized or sent to Parliament for ratification. Workers organizing independently of the VGCL can at times face arrest or other sanction.


The 11th Congress of the Vietnamese Communist Party was held in January followed by National Assembly elections in May. Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung was reappointed. While many looked for signs of meaningful political change from the Congress, those hopes were not realized. Human rights defenders and democracy activists were arrested and sentenced throughout the year. Human Rights Watch reported that at least 33 dissidents and peace activists were sentenced to a total of 185 years in prison and 75 years suspended for exercising the freedom of speech and association, despite these being guaranteed in the Constitution. Political prisoners are frequently tortured during questioning, and they are often refused family visits or even visits by their lawyers.

The Vietnamese media are closely controlled by the authorities. There are no private independent media. The government blocks access to politically sensitive sites. Internet cafe managers are required to monitor and record their customers' online activity. Internet writers who dare criticise the authorities on the Internet risk being harassed, interrogated and sometimes imprisoned. Human Rights Watch reports that at least four bloggers were arrested for "subversion" "propaganda against the State" and for publishing articles calling for democracy or human rights. Two of them were sentenced to three and four year prison terms.

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".

Link to additional detailed information regarding the legislation on the ITUC website here

In practice

About 1,000 illegal strikes:

Workers who take part in strikes that do not have government approval risk sanctions, but the conditions to be met for organising a strike legally are so restrictive it is almost impossible to respect them. There was a huge increase in the number of illegal strikes during the year from 423 the previous year to nearly 1,000 in 2011. Most strikes are linked to the fact that workers wages have not kept up with inflation, which reached 18%.

In its latest report the ILO's Better Work-Vietnam project notes that of the 78 factories involved in its programme, three have refused to reinstate all eligible workers after a strike, and one factory punished workers who went on strike.

From 24-29 June, over 90,000 workers at the Pou Yuen shoe factory which supplies major footwear brands such as Adidas, went on strike to demand better wages. Several sources reported that workers were arrested and/or dismissed following their action.

Collective bargaining restricted: Unions affiliated to the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour (VGCL) have limited scope for collective bargaining given the management domination of the union in many enterprises. Recently, the VGCL statutes were amended in order to limit certain high-ranking managers from serving as union leaders. In its last report, the ILO's Better-Work Vietnam project pointed out that in three quarters of the factories involved in its programme it is not possible for the union to meet with the workers without management being present.

40,000 detainees subjected to forced labour: People dependent on illegal drugs can be held in government detention centres where they are subjected to "labor therapy". A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report condemns the abuses committed in these centres: detention without trial (routinely for as long as four years); beatings with truncheons, electric shocks and being deprived of food and water for infringement of the centre's rules, including the requirement to work, etc. Some products produced as a result of this forced labour are exported, including to the United States and Europe. According to HRW, at the beginning of 2011 about 40,000 people were incarcerated in 123 centres of this type, including children.


Verdict of three workers rights activists, mistreated in custody, confirmed on appeal:

On 18 March the courts confirmed on appeal the seven to nine year prison sentences handed down in 2010 to three workers' rights activists who had distributed leaflets and organised a strike by 10,000 workers at the My Phong shoe factory in the Tra Vinh province (see the 2011 Survey). All three have been ill-treated in prison and are being detained in inhumanly unhealthy conditions. Do Thi Minh Hanh, a young woman of 26, has lost her hearing in one ear, and has swollen joints and stomach pains as a result of beatings received in detention. The other two, Doan Huy Chuaong, 26, and Nguyen Hoang Quoc Hung, 30, have also been beaten in prison.

Concern for the health of these three activists is all the greater following the death in detention of two political prisoners Nguyen Van Trai and Truong Van Suong, in July and September.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

Search Refworld