On October 1, 2021, when more than a million workers simultaneously left Saigon and surrounding industrial zones to return to their hometowns, one could see that the government was not prepared for that situation.
Hastily issued orders are sometimes contradictory, sometimes impossible, leading to asynchronous execution in each place. The central and local governments did not agree on how to handle the situation.
There are not many explanations, only workers have to bear the consequences of the government’s embarrassment. These weaknesses of the administrative levels of the state have been fully dissected on the media and social networks.
Meanwhile, the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour, which is nominally a union representing workers and protecting their interests, has what successes and failures in those “hot” days?
A trade union is a charitable organization?
Before the Covid-19 pandemic occurred, union activities for employees were generally considered to be lackluster, mechanical, only present when giving gifts, during Tet holidays, weddings, or funerals.
When the Covid-19 epidemic broke out, the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour supported tens of billions of dong in cash for employees, according to the Nguoi Lao Dong newspaper.
Along with programs such as Trade Union Shelter, Labor Gold Heart, 0 Dong Supermarket… Vietnam General Confederation of Labour seems to have done a good job as a benevolent organization. However, it is incorrect to view trade unions as charitable organizations.
Because the amount of money workers receive is largely from their own contributions through union fees or indirectly from union fees contributed by enterprises. Trade union support is nothing more than giving back to workers what they have contributed to the union fund.
This “relief” activity can also be seen as a bright spot of the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour.
Unlike Vietnam, in Western democracies, the 1-1.5% union fee paid to employee representative organizations is not used for charitable purposes, but to perform the main function of the labor union organizations involved in the protection of workers, including money to support workers when there is a strike for benefits because they are not paid during this time.
Thousands of Pouchen Vietnam workers gathered in the overpass area of National Highway 1K to protest against the proposal of a new salary scale in 2018.
Is Vietnam General Confederation of Labour’s activities effective?
The question is why Vietnam General Confederation of Labour is considered an organization that “represents, cares for and protects the legitimate rights and interests of workers” as Resolution No. 02-NQ/TW of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) pointed out, with more than 10 million union members, they did not soon realize the frustration of more than a million workers and the possibility that they would leave for their hometown after easing the social distancing order?
In fact, until October 1, there were three waves of workers fleeing Ho Chi Minh City.
Early and correct awareness of the situation can help the state make timely policies, prevent confusion and contradictions in orders, each locality can do something like “terror of the army“. ,” or as Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh’s belated appeal: “try to keep workers in the city.”
When throngs of people ride motorbikes, bicycles, and even people walking to their hometown, we only see people on the roadside bringing drinking water, food, gasoline, and sometimes even cash to support them, there is no information that trade union members accompany and share the difficulties of those groups returning to their hometown.
The Vietnam General Confederation of Labour did not keep a close eye on workers, did not grasp their legitimate aspirations and needs. The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed the limitations of a large but not self-reliant organization that only works under the “top-down” orders of the party.
What does the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour’s renewal bring to workers?
On June 12, 2021, CPV’s General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong signed Resolution No. 02-NQ/TW of the Politburo of the party “on renovating the organization and operation of the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour in the new situation.”
Although issued in the midst of the Covid-19 epidemic, the document did not mention the plight of workers during the pandemic.
The “new situation” as stated in the resolution is not the difficulties that have been realized during the pandemic in terms of housing, wages, working time, etc. of workers, but the deepening international integration. Expanded through the signing of trade agreements, ratification of international conventions, and also because of the content of the Labor Code 2019 allowing the establishment of workers’ organizations at enterprises.
“Renovating the organization and operation of Vietnam General Confederation of Labour” has only the specific goal of strongly increasing the number of union members: 13.5 million by 2025, 16.5 million by 2030, most of being a union member until 2045.
Having a large number of union members compared to other workers’ organizations (in the future) will help Vietnam General Confederation of Labour gain the upper hand in collective bargaining, as both 68, Clause 2, of the 2019 Labor Code states. : “In case an enterprise has many organizations representing workers at the grassroots… then the organization that has the right to request negotiation is the one with the largest number of members in the enterprise.”
Mask factory in Thai Nguyen province, Vietnam (Getty Images)
The core of this resolution is nothing new, still “ensure the Party’s comprehensive and absolute leadership over the organization and activities of the Trade Union“, mentioned three times in the document at point 3, part. I, point 1 part II and point 5 part III.
Regarding other representative organizations of workers that will be allowed to be established, the view of the Resolution is still doubtful, still “preventing and preventing… workers going on illegal strikes, disruptive demonstrations, etc. ” (point 3, part II), “abuse of employees’ organization … to cause insecurity and disorder” (point 5, part II), or “identify acts of taking advantage of the establishment and operation of workers’ organizations… to infringe on national security.”
The policy of the Communist Party of Vietnam is to eliminate organizations that stand outside the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour, written as follows: “take appropriate and effective measures to attract advocacy and orient this organization to join the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour.” (point 6, part III).
Directly related to the rights of workers, in the 5-page document, there are only a few general lines mentioned such as: “improve social welfare, take care of and solve difficult and pressing problems of workers” (point 6, part III). There are no specific goals such as: how many houses to build, how many kindergartens and schools for the children of workers…?
The family of union activist Minh Hanh was accused of being persecuted
The protection of workers is an obligation that Vietnam has committed to the world. Chapter 13 on “Trade and Sustainable Development” of the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) affirms Vietnam’s commitment to respect, promote and effectively implement the principles on fundamental rights at work, consistent with obligations under the ILO and the ILO Declaration on fundamental principles and rights at work, including freedom of association and substantive recognition of the right to trade. collective quantity.
The right to freedom of association here is the right to establish a representative workers’ organization with the task of collective bargaining.
The Vietnam General Confederation of Labour is also an organization representing workers under the direction of the Vietnamese Communist Party. They have the right to innovate as set out in Resolution 02-NQ/TW. But if the goal of the resolution is only to increase the number of union members and oppress other organizations outside the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour in the future, workers will not benefit from this innovation.
Vietnamese workers are facing many difficulties. From too low wages to too many working hours compared to the world level. They have to stay in cramped, unsanitary hostels. Their children are not brought up and properly educated. There are too many things that need to be improved, many people and organizations need to join hands to help workers.
The exclusive objective of the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour is the desire to return to the subsidy system, which is ineffective, incompatible with the general process of the country, as well as contrary to the spirit of the agreements which Vietnam has signed.
The Labor Code 2019 allows an additional representative organization of employees at the enterprise besides the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour. The Code takes effect from January 1, 2021, but so far there is no specific decree or document to implement this.
More important and urgent than ever is that the state must create conditions for workers’ representative organizations outside of Vietnam General Confederation of Labour to be allowed to operate.
This article represents the personal views of the author, an observer currently living in Stuttgart, Germany.