Labour laws

Labour Code revision brings Viet Nam better in line with international labour standards

An interview with ILO Senior Advisor on Standards Policy, Tim De Meyer

Comment | 29 September 2019

What are the significant changes in the draft revised Labour Code? And what do they mean to Vietnamese people?

The Labour Code in Viet Nam is a very comprehensive document that deals with many issues, such as employment contracts, the ability of workers to negotiate with their employers, minimum standards for working conditions, protection of safety and health and so on.

In all of these areas, the current revision process is contemplating significant changes. In my opinion, there are two particularly significant changes. One big change is the ability workers should now have the chance, at enterprise level, to form representative organizations and engage in a collective bargaining process that enables workers to get a fair share of the profits they help generate on one hand but also on the other hand enables enterprises to make sure that they can negotiate the productivity improvements necessary for them.

The other big change is the expansion of the scope of the Labour Code. That means many more workers than in the past will be in a position to benefit from the protection by the Labour Code.

Viet Nam’s Labour Code is now better in line with international labour standards. Can you explain this point?

I think the most significant progress towards better alignment with International Labour Standards is the right of employers and workers to organize, which means to form organizations representing them to engage in meaningful negotiations about working conditions. It’s very meaningful because it will enable employers and workers to adjust to changes in the labour market and to negotiate the flexibility that is necessary to remain sustainable over a longer period of time.

We're also seeing progress in the employment relationship which is firmly embedded in the Labour Code. The better the employment relationship is recognized as a means of protecting workers who work according to the instructions of an employer, the easier it becomes for workers to claim the protection within the Labour Code, as the employment relationship is the entry door into the Code. So we hope with that it will be possible to align the situation in Viet Nam better with international standards for example on minimum wage, making sure that a much bigger number of workers have a minimum wage to sustain their families on.

Where is Viet Nam in the world in terms of labour laws development?

Traditionally, Viet Nam has a very extensive system of laws on paper. However the more you stipulate in the laws and the more economic activity diversifies, the more difficult it becomes for everyone in the economy to live up to the standards in the laws. Therefore the important transition Viet Nam needs to make is to put more emphasis on the importance of contracts, enabling employers and workers both individually and collectively to negotiate the working conditions that are the most appropriate to fit their own situation. So I think the change that Viet Nam still has to go through now, it's not so much to put more on paper but to make sure that what is on paper better fits the needs of workers and employers.

Which specific issues in the Code still have room for improvement?

I think in particular they are issues with respect to the promotion of equality. We see inequality on the rise everywhere in the world today, particularly inequality of income but also inequality of opportunities.

Viet Nam is an aging society, so one of the issues is that productivity will have to go up, skills levels will have to increase to make the best of everyone’s productive potential. That means more women need to be able to make their productive potential available to a labour market that fairly rewards them. But that does mean a number of protective provisions in the Labour Code need to be revised. Maternity protection needs to be strengthened, access to affordable domestic work, protection against sexual harassment, and a wider range of occupations and economic activities that are open to women and that traditionally have been closed to women for protective reasons. So I think that is an area where the Labour Code can still make a fairly significant amount of progress.

Viet Nam, the line between protecting women’s rights and opportunities for them is quite blur. How could this be improved?

I think much is the matter of mind set, not only a matter of legal drafting. You should ask yourself in the world today, with the opportunities created by trade liberalization, what need is there still for the many protections provided by the law in comparison to the opportunities and to the choices women should have to accept the work that they feel they can carry out, to accept the contribution they can make to a growing economy. That is really the question. Around the world, many countries have gone already to at least partially through that transition and sometimes in the areas that you would not immediately consider.

Let me just give one example. Underground work in mines was traditionally closed for women, the ILO has had an international standard prohibiting such work since 1935 and Viet Nam has still ratified that standard. But major mining countries such as South Africa and Australia have opened the mining industry for women since a good number of years. The technology has made it possible for women to use the equipment that was originally designed for men. It has been good for women, it has been good for economic growth, and it has been good for the cohesion also of the society as all these mining communities were traditionally remote and exclusively populated by men. So this is just an example of how, by opening up equality of opportunity and treatment, everyone can be better off.
Funding for the New Industrial Relations Framework project is provided by the United States Department of Labor under cooperative agreement number IL- 29690-16-75-K-11. This material does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the United States Department of Labor, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the United States Government. One hundred percentage of the total costs of the project or program is financed with Federal funds, for a total of 4 million dollars.