Last Updated: Thursday, 23 November 2017, 12:01 GMT

2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Vietnam

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 8 June 2011
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Vietnam, 8 June 2011, available at: [accessed 23 November 2017]
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 government continued to repress independent unions. Four workers' rights activists were condemned to heavy prison sentences. The official trade union confederation is criticised on all sides for its ineffectiveness.


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".


Background: Vietnam held the presidency of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) in 2010. The country remains under the single party rule of the Communist Party. Some of its members are advocating an opening, but repression of any sign of dissidence was stepped up in the run-up to the party's 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.

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.

Internet under surveillance to prevent calls for strike action: The government blocks access to politically sensitive sites. Internet cafe managers are required to monitor and record their customers' online activity. In April, the Hanoi People's Committee (the city's executive organ) issued a legal decision that all internet cafes must install monitoring software approved by the authorities, prohibiting the use of the internet to "call for illegal demonstrations, boycotts, unlawful gatherings for grievances and complaints".

Court proceedings lead to impasse: Workers wanting to claim respect for their rights in court face numerous obstacles, including the slowness and cost of the proceedings, or the absence of an employment contract.

Tran Khai Than Thuy condemned to three-and-a-half years in prison: Tran Khai Than Thuy, a renowned journalist and writer, has been subjected to several periods of detention and house arrest since becoming one of the founders of the Independent Workers' Union in 2006. According to Human Rights Watch, she was arrested once again in 2009 after trying to attend the trials of other dissidents in Hanoi and Haiphong. On 5 February, she was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison on trumped-up charges.

Le Thi Cong Nhan harassed following release: Le Thi Cong Nhan is a lawyer and multi-party democracy campaigner. She was imprisoned in 2007 for having "conducted propaganda activities against the State". During her trial she was accused of "fallacious interpretation" of government policies on labour unions. The articles she posted on internet criticised the national legislation that allows for arbitrary arrests as well prohibiting the formation of independent trade unions and the exercise of the right to strike. Le Thi Cong Nhan was released on 6 March but will remain under probation for another three years. Human Rights Watch reports that she has been arrested three times since her release: on 9 March, when she was interrogated by the police after meeting with a foreign journalist; on 28 May, when the police dragged her out of a Hanoi cafe where she was going to meet two foreigners, then kept her in detention for five hours; and on 4 November, when plainclothes police officers arrested her at a restaurant where she was eating with friends and took her to the police station where they interrogated her for over six hours.

Seven to nine year imprisonment for three workers' rights activists: In February, police arrested three activists for distributing anti-government leaflets and organising strikes in Tra Vinh province. They were Doan Huy Chuaong, aged 25, arrested on 11 February, Nguyen Hoang Quoc Hung, aged 29, arrested on 24 February, and Do Thi Minh Hanh, aged 25, arrested on 23 February. They were also accused of sending photos of a strike to a Vietnamese workers' support committee based in Poland. Witnesses reported that Do Thi Minh Hanh was slapped on the face by the police officers during her arrest. Nguyen Hoang Quoc Hung was condemned on 27 October to nine years in prison by a court in Tra Vinh province and the two others were each sentenced to seven years for "disturbing law and order".

One of the activists, Doan Huy Chuong, is a founding member of the United Workers-Farmers Organization (UWFO). He had already spent 18 months in prison in 2007 and 2008 for "abusing democratic freedoms". His father, Doan Van Dien, had been arrested on the same charges in 2006 and is still in jail after being condemned to four-and-a-half years in prison in December 2007. The UWFO spokesperson, Tran Quoc Hien, has also been in prison since 2007, and is not due to be released until 2012.

The two other activists sentenced on 27 October, Nguyen Hoang Quoc Hung and Do Thi Minh Hanh, are members of the Victims of Injustice movement, which assists impoverished workers and landless farmers.

These activists are among the thirty or so prisoners of conscience identified by Amnesty International at the end October in Vietnam. Along with a number of independent trade unionists, the list also includes supporters of banned political groups, bloggers, journalists, writers and businessmen.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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