On 29th September 2014, a seminar on “The role of Trade Unions in Protecting Labourers’ Rights” took place at the Hue University of Science (HUS) with the support of Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung Southeast Asia (RLS SEA). The seminar began with the welcome speeches by Nadja Charaby, Director of RLS SEA and Assoc. Prof. Dr. Nguyen Van Tan, Rector of HUS with the short introduction of the German delegation, headed by Peeter Raane, member of RLS Executive Board.
To start the first session, Dr. Le Kim Lan, the coordinator of project between HUS and RLS SEA, briefly introduced the Hue University of Science and projects between HUS and RLS SEA, about their implementation and achievements in the field of migration research. In the second part of her presentation, talking about the migration status in Vietnam generally, and in Central Vietnam particularly, Dr. Le Kim Lan named some disadvantages and difficulties of migrant workers and urged for changes in policy making processes.
Next, Alexander Schroeder, RLS scholarship student, presented the topic ”Protecting rights of labour migrants in East Asia”. He first introduced concepts of basic minimum wage and labour treatment in some East Asian countries, such as China, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan with China as a focus. By conclusion, he emphasized that Southeast Asian countries should not copy trade union models of other countries, according to him, each country has its own features, each should base on that to create its own model ensuring social justice and labour rights.
Continuing the seminar, Gueldane Tokyuerek, a lawyer specialised on Labour and Social Protection Law, staff of the public employment agency, talked about labour migration in Germany with the focus on the Residence Law. She also introduced different types of work licenses in Europe and criticised the practices for not being welcoming enough for migrants.
As next, Tran Quang Vinh, Vice Chairman of Hue’s Labour Federation, made a speech about the ”Trade union role in protecting the rights of workers in Thua Thien Hue”. He introduced the situation of labour in Hue, including the situation of minimum wage. He informed the audience that Vietnam has increased its minimum wage 5 times since 2006, also pointed out the disadvantages of grassroots trade union and its reasons.
Benedikt Frank, Verdi trade union secretary, spoke about the trade union in the retail sector in Germany. He claimed that strike is a rather seldomly used or irregular tool in Germany, the trade union plays more a role of a listener. He expressed that he himself in his daily work has to go, meet and listen to what labourers say frequently. Trade unionists nowadays cannot convince workers by ready made concepts any longer according to Benedikt Frank. Hence, he highlighted that the most important role of the trade union is to listen to the labourers’ voice.
As the last speaker, Le Thi Nga, HUS senior lecturer, focused on the trade union’s role in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) enterprises. She argued that nowadays, the trade union considers administrative procedures as too important. Further, she explained what the FDI trade union has done so far. The trade union in Vietnam has many challenges to deal with, such as the professionalism of trade union officers, the inconsistency in activities, etc. To finish, Le Thi Nga proposed some recommendations: to comprehend and clarify the labour law system; raising awareness and knowledge of the trade union staff about the labourers’s rights and needs, etc.
In the discussion session, in Vietnam, the violation of labourers’ rights, remains a difficult problem to solve. An example is the health insurance, which often, even if workers are covered by it, does not provide sufficient means for a proper medical treatment.
The matter of vocational training also is a difficult problem. One participant unveiled the situation that a large number (60%) of workers in garment companies originating from Thua Thien Hue province has a bachelor or master degree. It was criticised as the state and also families nowadays spend too much time and money for unused education. Participants saw the roots in an educational mismanagement, big surplus in numbers of workers, etc. Every year approximately one million additionally enter the labour market in Vietnam.
A debate also arose around the topic of stable work and long-term contracts, criticizing the fact that it is very difficult to get employed but very easy to get fired. Participants wondered about trade union’s role in such cases. A typical criticism was further the problem of the trade union staff being paid by the employers and hence not being as independent from the employers as they should be in order to protect labourers’ rights?
A lot of information and experiences have been discussed and shared amongst the German and Vietnamese participants, the debate about the rights of labourers and the role of the trade union should definitely be continued.