On the 1-2nd April, a national conference on the ‘Future of Industrial Relations and the Revision of the Labour Code and the Trade Union Law’ convened to discuss the current state of industrial relations in Vietnam, and review proposed changes in Vietnam’s Labour Code and Trade Union Law. The conference was organized by the International Labour Organization office in Vietnam in cooperation with Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA) and was lead by key representatives of MOLISA and the employers’ and workers’ organizations as well as John Hendra, the UN Resident Coordinator for Viet Nam and Kari Tapiola, Executive Director of the ILO in charge of Standards and Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. They discussed a process of revision that is underway to overhaul the legal regulations surrounding labour standards and industrial relations.
The Conference takes place at an important and timely stage as the draft revisions of the Labour Code and Trade Union law are being finalised for submission and deliberation by the relevant committees of the National Assembly that are assigned to appraise the draft for final enactment following wide-ranging discussions and consultations with constituents and stakeholders.
The Trade Union Law was adopted in 1990 and the Labour Code was introduced in 1994—during the very early days of the Doi Moi transition. Since then, the state-owned sector has diminished, while a booming private sector has become a hotbed for disputes, with the conflict of interest between employers and workers becoming ever more pronounced. Disputes have led to a rising trend of ‘wildcat strikes’—called wild because they are not in line with the labour law and without the involvement of, and often without the knowledge of Vietnam’s trade union movement.
A representational gap between trade union structures and rank-and-file workers has contributed to this trend. This gap is especially acute at enterprise level where unions are often indistinguishable from the employers—often being run by the business’ HR managers. Two industrial relations systems have emerged: a formal one, and an informal one. The formal system is the legal one based on the rules and regulations in Vietnam’s current labour legislation. The informal system is the one that employees will resort to when they feel that the formal system will not genuinely or effectively represent them. The growth of the informal system of industrial relations in Vietnam has also lead to a high rate of turnover in workforce and worsening labour shortage—workers walk away, and stay away, from low-paid and bad jobs in the absence of means to make them better.