January 21, 2018

On the 22 November 2013 the Institute for Scientific Socialism of the Ho Chi Minh Academy for Administration and Politics and RLS Southeast Asia hosted the international seminar: “TRADE UNION STAFFS IN PROTECTING RIGHTS AND BENEFITS OF WORKERS – EXPERIENCES OF GERMANY AND REALITY OF VIETNAM”. As experts from the German side the political scientist Mr. Bodo Zeuner and Ms. Manuela Wischmann as a representative of the German Left Party (Die Linke) were invited. From the Vietnamese side Mr. Prof. Dr. Nguyen Quang Tho and Mr. Dr. Vu Minh Tien from the Institute for Labor and Trade Unions, Mr. Tran Huy Vi president of the Hanoi Trade Union School and Mr. Dinh Quoc Toan, chairman of the trade union of the Hanoian industrial zones where in the podium. Ms. Nadja Charaby represented RLS Southeast Asia.

In the first part of the event, structural and legal differences in the field of union work were discussed. Unions in Germany differ in size and are separated by branches. There is also an umbrella organization for general interests called “Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund”. In Vietnam there is one big union which is integrated in the state’s system. The work of union staff in Vietnam is voluntary and on top work and there is no compensation on it. A lot of union officials are rather close or part of the administrative management level, where in Germany union officials are not allowed to work in that field. In the German model the unions employ around 10,000 full-time officials.

Due to that, there are very different possibilities that the trade union work can provide. Further important points are that the Vietnamese government created a climate that is very friendly towards investors. The country is aiming to develop into an industrialized nation until 2020. Vietnam’s population is young and offers a big workforce of inexperienced laborers. The FDI (foreign direct investment) sector is one of the fastest growing sectors in Vietnam’s economy and created about 100,000 jobs in the Hanoi area. For this development the Vietnamese trade union is not ready yet. Right now there is no legal status making a distinction between a local and an FDI enterprise.

Accordingly, there are general problems for labor struggles initiated from the union side. The union staff is lacking experience, time and opportunities for qualification to achieve the aim of an active representation of workers in the company. Legal procedures are often not known or the unionists don’t have the foreign language competence to communicate directly with the management. The legal protection of union officials is deficient and, as written earlier, an overlapping between the management and the union officials is a common practice. This is also a reason why all strikes in the last years where organized as “wild strikes” without a legitimation from the union.

In the discussions of the seminar the podium as also the participants where addressing these problems and proposed solutions. The most important point is to improve the field of qualification; this means skills in legal procedures, language courses and communication. How else should a young union worker oppose against an older and more experienced manager of an international cooperation? Another option that was discussed is the implementation of autonomous committees monitoring and defending the workers’ rights. This only makes sense in combination with a special legal guideline for FDI businesses and concrete sanctions for the employer in case of violations.

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