Academic journal article Southeast Asian Studies

Trade Union Organizing Free from Employers' Interference: Evidence from Vietnam

Academic journal article Southeast Asian Studies

Trade Union Organizing Free from Employers' Interference: Evidence from Vietnam

Article excerpt

Introduction

The reforms (doi moi) initiated in 1986 by the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) to transform a centrally planned economy to a socialist market economy has created significant changes in the Vietnamese labor market. Before the innovation most people of working age were employed in state agencies or state-owned enterprises. Today, the majority of the employed population works for the private sector (approximately 41 million persons are employed in local enterprises and approximately 1.6 million persons are employed in foreign-invested enterprises) (Vietnam, General Statistics Office [GSO] 2010). Vietnam still has a socialist political system and trade union policy: the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour (VGCL) is the only trade union. Workplace trade unions (công ðoàn co s?), immediate upper-level trade unions (công ðoàn c?p trên tr?c ti?p co s?), and other trade unions of different levels must follow the Statute of VGCL. Workers from different sectors have the right to voluntarily form, join, or participate in unions in accordance with the law. The trade unions are open to Vietnamese salaried workers and self-employed Vietnamese,1) irrespective of their occupation, gender, or religious belief. However, they are only entitled to form, join, or participate in trade unions affiliated with the VGCL2) since independent trade unions operating outside the umbrella of the VGCL are not legally recognized.3) The change in labor structure has led to a shift in the VGCL's focus regarding union organizing in the private sector, dominated (97 percent) by small and medium enterprises (T? Cucmg 2012). In 2003, the VGCL set a target to gain 1 million new trade union members in the period 2003-08 and 1.5 million new trade union members in the period 2008-13. Accordingly, by the end of 2013, workplace trade unions should be established in 70 percent of the eligible enterprises under the provisions of the VGCL Statute, gathering at least 60 percent of the workers (Nguyen Duy Vu 2012). By the end of 2011, the number of new trade union members had increased by over 1.3 million. This brought the total number of trade union members in the whole country to over 7.5 million, scattered over 111,319 workplace trade unions, of which the private sector accounts for 74.2 percent (ibid.).

Despite the sharp rise in trade union memberships and trade union organizing, there has been a constant increase in wildcat strikes4) since the enforcement of the first Labour Code of 1994, which came into effect on January 1,1995.5' According to VGCL's statistics, in the period 1995-2010, there were 3,402 wildcat strikes (Vietnam, VGCL 2011b, 32). The global economic recession led to thousands of workers losing their jobs in 2011. The number of wildcat strikes that year (978 cases) was double that of 2010, concentrated in foreign-invested enterprises in the key economic provinces and cities in the south (Quang Chính and Vi?t Lâm 2012). The percentage of wildcat strikes occurring in organized enterprises is high, for example, 70.99 percent in 2010 (ibid., 36). Current practices of trade union organizing is one of the major causes of wildcat strikes. Despite the increase of workplace trade unions over the years, several established workplace in fact "yellow unions," formed and influenced by the management of the enterprises in order to serve the employers' interests (see the following sections for more details). In the face of increasing wildcat strikes, the VGCL has attempted to conduct trade union organizing free from employers' interference in the private sector. This effort, which is seen as a pilot initiative, has been carried out in a small number of targeted private-sector enterprises in Hai Phong city, Binh Duong province and Ho Chi Minh City since 2011.6) These are representative localities in terms of a high concentration of private-sector enterprises, a large workforce, and a high percentage of wildcat strikes. The aim of this effort is to establish trade unions with democratic participation of workers, based on a bottom-up principle of organizing and minimal influence of employers in the process. …

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