U.S. Department of State Human Rights Report, Labor Subsections
February 25, 2000
Section 6 Worker Rights The Right of Association
Unions are controlled by the Party and have only nominal independence;
however, union leaders influence some key decisions, such as on health
and safety issues and on minimum wage standards. Workers are not free
to join or form unions of their choosing; such action requires approval
from the local office of the Party-controlled Vietnam General Confederation
of Labor (VGCL). The VGCL is the umbrella organization under which all
local trade unions must operate, and it claims 4 million members in branches
in each of the major cities and provinces. VGCL officers report that the
VGCL represents 95 percent of public sector workers, 90 percent of workers
in state-owned enterprises, and nearly 70 percent of private sector workers.
The Labor Law requires provincial trade union organizations to establish
unions within 6 months at all new enterprises with more than 10 employees
as well as at existing enterprises that operate without trade unions.
Management of those companies is required by law to accept and cooperate
with those unions. In addition, while the Labor Code states that all enterprise
level and professional trade unions are affiliated with the VGCL, in practice
hundreds of unaffiliated "labor associations" have been organized
in occupations such as those of taxi, motorcycle and cyclo drivers, cooks,
and market porters. Foreign governments are providing technical assistance
and training to the Ministry of Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs and
to the VGCL.
The Labor Law provides for the right to strike under certain circumstances.
The law requires that management and labor resolve labor disputes through
the enterprise's own labor conciliation council. In a recent report, the
ILO stated that many labor organizations failed to establish labor conciliation
councils, and that without one, or if one fails to resolve the matter,
it is referred to the provincial Labor Arbitration Council, which does
not exist in some provinces. If the Council's decision is unsatisfactory
to the union or if the province does not have an arbitration council,
unions have the right to appeal to the Provincial People's Labor Arbitration
Council. Labor courts, which were established in 1996 within the People's
Court System, heard approximately 500 cases; most cited wrongful dismissal
and matters of labor discipline. Since January 1995, the Labor Ministry
has organized 150 training courses on the Labor Code for its staff and
for managers of large enterprises.
The government-controlled labor unions stipulate written procedures for
managing labor disputes that permit unresolved disputes to be arbitrated
before a court. Unions have the right to appeal a council decision to
the provincial people's court and the right to strike.
There were approximately 60 private and public strikes during the year,
primarily against foreign-owned or joint venture companies, but some also
involved state-owned and private firms. The Government tolerated these
strikes, even though most were spontaneous and supported by organized
labor after the fact. Approximately 250 strikes were reported from January
1995 through September 1999. Of these, some 132 strikes were in enterprises
with foreign investment, about 40 in state-owned enterprises, and 80 in
private enterprises. The majority of these strikes took place in Ho Chi
Minh City, Dong Nai province, and other southern provinces. The strikes
mainly were caused by disputes over wages and related problems, including
late payment of overtime pay and inappropriate labor disciple. Although
most of the strikes did not follow an authorized conciliation and arbitration
process, and thus were illegal, the Government tolerated the strikes and
did not take action against the strikers. Although the VGCL or its affiliate
unions did not sanction these strikes officially, they were supported
unofficially at the local and provincial levels of the VGCL on an informal
basis. The Labor Law prohibits retribution against strikers, and there
were no credible reports of such retribution. In some cases, the Government
disciplined employers for illegal practices that led to strikes. VGCL
officials stated that their general policy was not to use strikes to settle
investment disputes, but only as a last resort. They stressed the need
to educate workers on lawful strike procedure.
The Labor Code prohibits strikes at enterprises that serve the public
and at those considered by the Government to be important to the national
economy and defense. A subsequent decree defined these enterprises to
be those involved in: Electrical production; post and telecommunications;
railway, maritime, and air transportation; banking; public works; and
the oil and gas industry. The law also grants the Government the right
to suspend a strike considered detrimental to the national economy or
public safety. Strikes are prohibited in 54 occupational sectors and businesses,
including public services, businesses producing "essential"
goods, and businesses serving national defense under the Ministries of
Public Security and National Defense. Individual unions legally are not
free to affiliate with, join, or participate in, international labor bodies,
and they do not do so in practice. However, the VGCL has relations with
95 labor organizations in 70 countries.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Workers must have the approval of the provincial or metropolitan branch
of the VGCL in order to organize unions in their enterprises, but they
also can bargain collectively through the Party-approved unions at their
enterprises. During the year, many contracts were negotiated that ended
the practice of annual renewal, as collective bargaining increased in
importance. Multiyear contracts became more common despite initial resistance
from foreign companies. Labor leaders became more active in supporting
their workers by agreeing to place more workplace issues in collective
bargaining agreements. Issues that are not in a contract, such as working
on Sundays, have been spelled out so that companies cannot order workers
to work a seventh day. Market forces also play a much more important role
in determining wages. The Labor Law prohibits antiunion discrimination
on the part of employers against employees seeking to organize.
There are a number of export processing zones and industrial zones, which
are governed by the same labor laws as the rest of the country.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The Labor Law prohibits all forms of forced and bonded labor, including
such labor by children; however, there were reports that thousands of
children work in exploitative child labor. Some women are forced into
prostitution, and trafficking in women for the purpose of forced prostitution
is a problem (see Sections 5 and 6.f.). A study of child labor in Ho Chi
Minh City found cases in which poor families had entered into "verbal
agreements" with employers, who put the families' children to work;
their salaries generally are sent to their parents. Officials state that
juveniles in reeducation camps, which function much as reform schools
or juvenile detention centers do elsewhere, are assigned work for educational
purposes that does not generate income. Children were trafficked both
domestically and internationally and forced to work as prostitutes (see
Sections 5 and 6.f.).
During the year, the Government suspended the practice of required labor
in the construction of national infrastructure projects; however, there
is a long local tradition under which persons living along flood-prone
levees voluntarily help to build or repair their critical flood control
system. In 1998 the Government denied the use of prison labor without
compensation, and there were no reports of this practice during the year.
d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment
The Labor Law prohibits most child labor but allows exceptions for certain
types of work. The Labor Law sets the minimum age for employment at 18
years of age, but enterprises may hire children between the ages of 15
and 18, as long as the firm obtains special permission from their parents
and the Ministry of Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs. The firm also
must ensure that these young workers do not undertake hazardous work or
work that would harm their physical or mental development. These occupations
are specified in the Labor Law. Children may work a maximum of 7 hours
per day and 42 hours per week and must receive special health care. It
is not clear whether authorities have the resources to enforce these regulations.
Children as young as 13 years of age can register at trade training centers,
which are a form of vocational training. There were no reports that state-owned
enterprises or companies with foreign investors used child labor.
Restrictions on working in hazardous operations apply to persons under
the age of 18. The Labor Code permits the vocational training of children
at the age of 13.
In rural areas, children work primarily on family farms and in other
agricultural activities. They often begin working at the age of 6 and
are expected to work as adults by the time they are 15 years of age. In
urban areas, children work in family-owned small businesses. There are
compulsory education laws that are not enforced effectively in rural areas,
where children are needed to work in agriculture. However, the culture's
strong emphasis on education leads parents who can afford to send their
children to school to do so rather than allow them to work. Many urban
schools operate two sessions, allowing children to attend classes and
In 1997 the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) announced that Children below
the age of 16 face increased risk of economic exploitation. The Government
estimated in 1997 that approximately 29,000 children below the age of
15 were victims of exploitative labor. That estimate may have been low,
since most of these children are working in the informal sector. In 1997
UNICEF cited evidence of children working in gold mines and as domestic
servants, or working up to 14 hours a day in hazardous conditions for
meager pay or no payment.
The Government did not commit sufficient resources to enforce its laws
providing for children's labor safety, especially for children working
in coal mines and as domestic servants. The ILO stated that street children
both in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi usually participate in night education
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The Labor Law requires the government to set a minimum wage, which is
adjusted for inflation and other economic changes. The official monthly
minimum wage for foreign-investment joint ventures is $45 (621,000 dong)
in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, and $40 (552,000 dong) elsewhere. The Government
can exempt temporarily certain joint ventures from paying the minimum
wage during the first months of an enterprise's operations, or if the
enterprise is located in a very remote area, but the minimum wage in these
cases can be no lower than $30 (414,000 dong). These minimum wage rates
are inadequate to provide a worker and family with a decent standard of
living. However, many workers receive bonuses and supplement their incomes
by engaging in entrepreneurial activities, and households often include
more than one wage earner. A decreasing number of workers receive government-subsidized
housing. The Government enforces the minimum wage only at foreign and
major Vietnamese firms.
In October the Government reduced the length of the workweek for government
employees and employees of companies in the state sector from 48 hours
to 40 hours; it intends to encourage the private business sector and foreign
and international organizations that employ Vietnamese workers to implement
a 40-hour week.
The Labor Law sets working hours at a maximum of 8 hours per day, with
a mandatory 24-hour break each week. Additional hours require overtime
pay at 1.5 times the regular wage and 2 times the regular wage on holidays.
The law limits compulsory overtime to 4 hours per week and 200 days per
year. Annual leave with full pay for various types of work is also prescribed
by the law. In a recent report, the ILO pointed out that the limit of
200 hours a year of overtime work is too low, and that workers and employers
should have the right to agree to a greater amount of overtime work. It
is uncertain how well the Government enforces these provisions.
According to the law, a female employee who is to be married, is pregnant,
is on maternity leave, or is raising a child under 1 year of age cannot
be dismissed unless the enterprise is closed. Female employees who are
at least 7 months pregnant or are raising a child under 1 year of age
cannot work overtime, at night, or in distant locations.
The Labor Law requires the Government to promulgate rules and regulations
that ensure worker safety. The Ministry of Labor, in coordination with
local people's committees and labor unions, is charged with enforcing
the regulations. In practice, enforcement is inadequate because of the
ministry's inadequate funding and a shortage of trained enforcement personnel.
The VGCL reported that there are 300 labor inspectors in the country but
that at least 600 are needed. There is growing evidence that workers,
through labor unions, have been effective in improving working conditions.
Some foreign companies with operations in the country have established
independent monitoring of problems at their factories. In some instances,
they used NGO's and other nonprofit organizations to monitor workplace
conditions and report abuses to the Ministry of Labor.
f. Trafficking in Persons
The Penal Code prescribes harsh punishment for persons convicted of trafficking
in women and children; however, some women are forced to work as prostitutes,
and trafficking in women for the purpose of forced prostitution, both
domestically and internationally, is a serious problem.
The Government, international NGO's, and the press reported an increase
in recent years in trafficking in women. Women and girls are trafficked
from the southern delta and highland provinces into Cambodia and from
northern provinces into China. Women and girls frequently are misled by
promises of well-paying jobs in those countries.
Prostitution, although officially illegal, appears to be widely tolerated.
The Ho Chi Minh City People's Committee recently acknowledged that more
than 10,000 women in the city engaged in prostitution. Hanoi and the port
cities of Danang and Haiphong also have large numbers of women engaged
in prostitution. There are reports that some persons in Ho Chi Minh City
addicted young girls to heroin, then forced them to work as prostitutes
to earn money to support their drug addiction. Many more women are compelled
to work as prostitutes because of poverty, a lack of other employment
opportunities, or because they are victimized by false promises of lucrative
work. The Vietnam Women's Union and Youth Union, as well as international
and domestic NGO's, are engaged actively in education and rehabilitation
programs to combat these abuses.
The Government is working with international NGO's to supplement law
enforcement measures and is cooperating with other national governments
to prevent trafficking. NGO's reported that the problem appeared to grow
during the year. Organized groups lure poor, often rural, women with promises
of jobs or marriage and force them to work as prostitutes (see Sections
5 and 6.c.). Press and NGO reports noted that some women were kidnaped
and transported to China and other countries against their will, where
they were sold into forced marriages. The Government took measures to
address this problem.
There is reported trafficking in women to the Macau Special Administrative
Region of China with the assistance of organizations in China that are
ostensibly marriage service bureaus, international labor organizations,
and travel agencies. After arrival, many women are forced into conditions
similar to indentured servitude; some may be forced into prostitution.
Children also are trafficked domestically and overseas to work as prostitutes.
Government agencies were engaged in efforts to combat this abuse. One
NGO advocate estimated that, among trafficked girl children, the average
age was from 15 through 17 years; many were trafficked to Cambodia and
Government agencies and mass organizations are engaged to combat this
problem. Some traffickers have been convicted and imprisoned. The Vietnam
Women's Union and Youth Union's programs, as well as state-owned media,
publicized the problem. Women's union advocacy and rehabilitation efforts
help women and girls who have been trafficked.
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