Workplace Dispute Resolution in Vietnam: Perspectives on a Developing Nation

By Fincher, Richard D. | Dispute Resolution Journal, May-July 2011 | Go to article overview

Workplace Dispute Resolution in Vietnam: Perspectives on a Developing Nation


Fincher, Richard D., Dispute Resolution Journal


Since the end of the U.S.-Viet nam war in 1975, the political and economic relationship between the two countries has evolved from bitterness to friendship. The most current manifestation of this friendship is the growth of tourism by Americans desiring to experience Vietnam's spectacular coastal resorts and disappearing agrarian life style. Another example of this friendship is the technical assistance the United States has provided in the area of trade, social issues, and law reform. In 2010, I participated in a (U.S.-government sponsored) technical assistance program in Viet nam concerning workplace dispute resolution. In July 2010, I traveled throughout southern Vietnam, interviewing government officials, trade union leaders, and em ploy er representatives in order to assess the state of workplace dispute resolution. In April 2011, I returned and conducted five interactive training programs in dispute resolution with key players in labor relations. The trip concluded with a na tional conference in Hanoi promoting dispute resolution, at which I presented public policy suggestions to the Ministry of Labor (MOLISA), the Vietnamese Confed - eration of General Labor (VCGL), and the Vietnamese Cham ber of Com - merce and Industry (VCCI). Described below is a brief summary of my findings and observations.

USAID Sponsorship of Workplace Research in Vietnam

The United States Agency for In - ter national Development (USAID) is an independent federal agency that helps developing countries by supporting "economic growth, agriculture and trade; glo bal health; and democracy, conflict prevention and humanitarian assistance."1 Since 2001, USAID has provided various kinds of assistance in Viet nam.2 In 2009, the agency ex panded the scope of its tech - nical assistance to include an industrial relations project titled "Sup porting Implementa tion of Labor Laws and Promotion of Sound Industrial Relations in Vietnam" (the SIRR Pro - ject). This project encompassed several themes: dispute resolution, labor inspection, collective bargaining, and industrial relations education. As a result, several international labor consultants, including myself, were retained to implement the objectives of the SIRR Project. I was selected to focus on the dispute resolution part of this project, which had two sequential objectives. The first was to study dispute resolution methodologies used in Viet - nam, in cluding the statutory methods of conciliation and arbitration. The study was completed in December 2010. The second objective was to provide technical assistance and training to stakeholders. This part of the project was completed in April 2011.

Vietnam's Economy and the Role of Unions

Vietnam's economy is transitioning in two ways: from an agricultural mo del to an industrial model, and from a centrally planned economy to a market-based economy. These changes to the economy create both significant stress on labor relations and opportunities to improve labor relations practices and the rights of workers.

In Vietnam today, many products are manufactured for export. Historically, some foreign manufacturers used a business model that evaded labor laws, creating a temporary "race to the bottom" of wages and working conditions. Over time, this model has become less prevalent.

There are foreign players in Vietnam's manufacturing sector. Many Korean and Tai wanese corporations own factories that em ploy Viet - namese workers. The vast majority of workers in these factories are young female migrants from rural communities.

Some of the most important buyers of goods manufactured in Vietnam are large, foreign retailers, for example, Puma, Adidas and Nike. These companies design sneakers and athletic apparel and set standards of quality for the manufacture, which is completely outsourced. These global companies have resident staff in Vietnam to monitor production and working con ditions.

Vietnam's national constitution envisions a collaborative role for the three stakeholders involved in industrial relations: the government (represented by MOLISA), employers (represented by VCCI), and the sole national trade union (represented by VCGL). …

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