Viet Nam is good at seizing new opportunities and using their potential

An interview with Director of ILO Department of Partnerships and Field Support, Rie Vejs-Kjeldgaard

News | 17 October 2019
Rie Vejs-Kjeldgaard, Director of ILO Department of Partnerships and Field Support, shares a few thoughts about labour and employment issues in Viet Nam.
Viet Nam has ratified three more ILO conventions in 2019, including the fundamental Convention 98 on collective bargaining. What is the implication of this for the ILO – Viet Nam relationship?

First I would like to congratulate Viet Nam on the major achievement of having ratified three conventions this year.

One of the conventions, Convention 98 on collective bargaining, is a fundamental convention. The second convention is about employment opportunities for people with disabilities and the third concerns employment services to increase the efficiency of the labour market.

Ratifying these conventions is a major achievement for Viet Nam and lays the foundation for the country to continue its economic and social development.

Viet Nam has ratified a total of 24 ILO conventions related to international labour standards over the years. These three latest ratifications are, in their own way, remarkable for the country.

To make development partners interested in working with Viet Nam, the country needs to define clearly what it wants to do, how it will move forward, and indicates what it needs for support from development partners, including ILO."

Rie Vejs-Kjeldgaard, Director of ILO Department of Partnerships and Field Support
It is important to note that before reaching the point of ratifying a convention, countries have already gone through a long journey that often takes years. And once ratified, the work in support of the convention does not end. This simply means you’ve reached a milestone that marks the start of another journey of its implementation and realization.

The journey towards ratification of the convention and the journey to implement it could not be achieved without the proactive participation of many actors in Viet Nam – the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs (MoLISA), Viet Nam General Confederation of Labour (VGCL), Viet Nam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI), and Viet Nam Cooperatives Alliance (VCA), and many other stakeholders in Viet Nam. This process also requires effective cooperation with the ILO in Viet Nam. When the ILO works alongside the Government of Viet Nam and workers and employers’ organizations to provide technical expertise, it means that both financial and strategic support has also been provided by development partners in Viet Nam. Going ahead, their continued support remains essential, and the ILO in Viet Nam and the ILO in general is at the country’s disposal for the continued journey.

As a middle-income country now, does Viet Nam have difficulties in accessing international support in labour and employment issues?

It’s a good question because the development partners often have primary interests in working with countries that have lower income status. However, it is recognized that even a middle income country can still have many challenges in both economic and social issues. That’s certainly the case not only for Viet Nam but also in general for all countries.

As a middle income country today, Viet Nam still faces challenges and development partners do want to accompany Viet Nam in its continued progress, although they may want to focus their support in a different way. At the same time, they want to work with Viet Nam as they expect Viet Nam to grow and be able to do more and more on its own.

What should be the way forward for Viet Nam to continue taking advantage of support from the international community in labour and employment issues?

I think Viet Nam has always had many development partners that want to accompany the country in its continued journey. ILO and its development partners are always there to support Viet Nam.

To make development partners interested in working with Viet Nam, the country needs to define clearly what it wants to do, how it will move forward, and indicates what it needs for support from development partners, including ILO. Viet Nam has always been good at that and will need to continue that way. Then it also means defining well what are the economic, employment, social and – in the today’s world of the sustainable development goals – environmental challenges Viet Nam is facing.

You were Director of ILO Viet Nam in 2007-11. Have you noticed changes in Viet Nam upon your return to the country this time?

When I had the privilege of living in Viet Nam for almost five years in 2007-11, that period coincided with the journey that took Viet Nam from a lower income country to passing the threshold of a middle income country, which remains an impressive achievement. It was a period when Viet Nam had many labour, employment and social initiatives: developing employment strategies and skills development strategies, or improving social and labour data, to name a few. The country also ratified several ILO conventions at that time. All of these created the basis for where Viet Nam has moved today.

Viet Nam is now a lower middle income country and in a few years, Viet Nam will continue to move to an upper middle income country. This means that the labour market and labour employment situation have changed dramatically. The population and the labour force have increased in size. Some of the issues that we worked on during my time in Viet Nam are less of a challenge today but new challenges have emerged. For instance, when I was here, it was to absorb workers wanting to come from the rural to the urban areas looking for jobs. Now it’s more a shortage of labour. And not far from now, the aging population will become an issue for Viet Nam. No matter how a country progresses, new issues will come. But Viet Nam has constantly seized new opportunities and managed to use its potential – the resulting progress has been enormous.

Personally, my family and I had some of the best years of our lives in Viet Nam. So for me it was emotional and wonderful to be back here. After a few days in Hanoi, I can say that the most pronounced changes are so many new shopping malls and high-rises, but there is no change in the spirit of Hanoi and the feeling of being in Hanoi.

The traffic is still very busy with more cars and also more bikes. I have noticed strong discussions on environmental issues and I find that very impressive and very necessary.

My children are upset that they cannot come with me because they have to go to school. So I keep sending them photos so they can recognize the places. And I can tell you that pho is still as delicious now as it was 10 years ago.

And most importantly, for me, coming back to Hanoi and reconnecting with all of my friends has been wonderful.

You have been with the development partner delegation to Viet Nam over the past few days. Would you be able to share some reflections of the trip?

I came this time as I wanted to take many of ILO’s development partners to see what ILO can do in partnership with a country. For me it was obvious to think of Viet Nam because of all the country’s successes and the development Viet Nam has achieved and will continue to have. I wanted to show the development partners what a comprehensive ILO programme, which includes flexible funding, does at country level. And particularly I wanted to show when ILO works in a strong partnership with MOLISA, VGCL, VCCI and VCA, tremendous results can be achieved and ILO support can be best used.

The development partners are countries that are interested in funding ILO work. During this trip, nine partners joined. They all left with huge admiration for Viet Nam’s achievements as well as a sense of appreciation for ILO’s collaboration with partners in Viet Nam. They were pleased to learn about the impact that flexible funding has had on Viet Nam, where such resources have been used to promote decent work in the informal economy and to modernize Viet Nam’s data systems. Delegates also felt a strong affection for Viet Nam, as many of them had not been to the country before, and they were very impressed with the beauty, kindness, friendliness and effectiveness of the country.