Upper-level coordination helps trade unions return to workers

The active involvement of an upper-level trade union (công đoàn cấp trên cơ sở) in collective bargaining process over wage issues has helped prevent wild-cat strikes and paved the way for better industrial relations at enterprises in the southern industrial province of Binh Duong.

News | 17 May 2013
BINH DUONG (ILO News) – The active involvement of an upper-level trade union (công đoàn cấp trên cơ sở) in collective bargaining process over wage issues has helped prevent wild-cat strikes and paved the way for better industrial relations at enterprises in the southern industrial province of Binh Duong.

In the wake of the Government announcement on the new minimum wage for 2013, grassroots trade unions (công đoàn cơ sở) in 13 large garment manufacturing companies in Binh Duong carried out successful wage negotiations last December with the coordination and support of the Binh Duong Industrial Zones Trade Union.

Soon after the new minimum wage announcement, grassroots trade unions of the 13 enterprises sat down to discuss wage issues under the coordination of the Binh Duong IZ Union. They faced a unique, but increasingly common situation among the larger manufacturing enterprises -- the lowest wage level in all these companies was already higher than the new minimum wage announced for the next year. Fearing of serious uncertainties for both the workers and employers as a result of this, trade union leaders felt that this was an opportunity for them to take an initiative.

Upon agreeing on joint efforts with the support of the Binh Duong Industrial Zones Union, the grassroots trade union leaders organized meetings with workers at their enterprises to discuss wage increase and decided to adopt a common payrise proposal to present to their employers. They also agreed to carry out coordinated negotiations between the grassroots trade unions and their respective employers while maintaining close communication with each other under the coordination of the IZ Union. As a result, agreements were reached and a universal wage increase of VND300,000 ($14) in monthly salary was announced in all 13 enterprises.

New initiative

“The new dialogue and collective bargaining mechanism under the leadership of upper-level trade union is much better for both employers and workers,” said Truong Thi Bich Hanh, Chairperson of the Binh Duong Industrial Zones Trade Union.

In previous years, trade unions did not participate in the salary adjusting process. Wage increase was unilaterally decided by enterprise managers and workers waited until the beginning of the new year to see how their employers adjusted the wage following changes in the statutory minimum wage.

“This created a kind of competition among enterprises, each company offering different wage increases, through a sequence of announcements,” said Ms Hanh. “If not happy with the employers’ decisions, workers usually opted for wild-cat strikes, causing production disruption-- a dreaded situation for many employers because of its uncertainty damages to industrial relations.”

Le Thanh Long, Human Resources Manager of the Binh Minh Company Ltd in Song Than Industrial Zone, agreed, saying that labour instability was often related to salary adjustment.
The coordination in wage negotiation among the enterprises in the same sector has helped managers and workers understand each other and minimize unnecessary competitiveness among enterprises, he added.

“This is a good practice. I really hope the model will further develop in the coming time,” said Mr Long.

Workers themselves also felt more empowered, being involved in the process.

“We are respected more now, not like before when we couldn’t join the process [of discussing the new wage increases]. That makes me more responsible for the job I’m doing,” said Tran Thi Bich Le, an ironing worker at Hansoll Vina Company.

According to Yoon Youngmo, Chief Technical Adviser for the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Viet Nam’s Industrial Relations Project, the coordinated wage negotiation in Binh Duong was made possible because “the upper-level trade union was willing to and able to work closely with grassroots trade unions”.

“At the same time, the Binh Duong IZ Union helped the grassroots trade unions to rely on the workers in developing the wage increase proposal, and more importantly, in starting negotiations with the management,” he said. In demonstrating that they were able to work with workers on a day-to-day basis in organizing the wage negotiation, “the trade unions have now found a way to enter back into the lives of the workers in their workplaces.”

Grassroots trade unions in Binh Duong Province have been participating in a new initiative of the Binh Duong IZ Union as a part of the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour’s pilot programme for strengthening the role of upper-level trade unions in collective bargaining and industrial relations. The programme, supported by the Viet Nam-ILO Industrial Relations Project, aims to improve and strengthen the capacity of grassroots trade unions in representing workers, developing and activating the “trade union groups” (plant or line/section level structure for workers’ participation in trade union activities).

Under the new initiative, grassroots trade unions in several enterprises in Binh Duong have been working together on a regular basis to address their common challenges, efforts, and difficulties, helping and encouraging each other to move forward. This had led to some efforts in “multi-employer dialogue”, greater role of trade union in raising issues about wages, working conditions, and collective bargaining at their workplaces.