International labour standards

Discrimination issues heat up Labour Code revision debates

The revised Labour Code is expected to better protect workers from discrimination based on gender, disability and age.

News | 24 October 2018
© ILO/Nguyen A
HAI PHONG (ILO News) – The strengthening of non-discrimination in labour and employment in the on-going Labour Code revision process is bringing Viet Nam one step closer to international labour standards and its global commitments.

The grounds of discrimination vary, from race, colour to social origin among others but the current revision of Viet Nam’s Labour Code mostly focuses on three issues – gender, disability and age.

“This holds important implications in various aspects, including Viet Nam’s international integration,” said Nguyen Van Binh, Vice Director of the Legal Department under the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs (MoLISA).

“But labour law reform is not just to meet the requirements of FTAs. More importantly, it comes from the needs of the system to better serve workers, businesses and the entire society.”

Addressing a consultation on equality and non-discrimination in the Labour Code on 23 October in Hai Phong, he explained that non-discrimination is one of the four cornerstones of international labour standards to which member countries of new free trade agreements, including the EU-Viet Nam FTA and the CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership), are bound to.

The workshop was organized by MoLISA and the ILO as part of the project “Promoting ILO Fundamental Conventions towards ratification of Conventions 87, 98, 105, and actions to eliminate discrimination and forced labour in Viet Nam” funded by the European Union.

Towards an inclusion society

The 2012 Labour Code removed the 2 per cent quota of employees with disabilities required by the previous 1994 version for employers to be able to enjoy tax preferential.

Now many are proposing to re-introduce a specific rate of employees with disabilities for certain sectors and jobs. If employers fail to meet the quota, they will be required to make financial contribution to the Government’s employment fund which will be used to address job issues for this disadvantaged group.

This aims at setting clear responsibilities for employers to increase job opportunities for people with disabilities, and is in line with international practices and national laws of many countries in the world.

“Perhaps it could be rolled out first in the public sector,” said Binh.

It was also proposed that the current prohibition to use all disabled workers for overtime, night shifts and precarious jobs be revised as this discriminates against them without considering their legitimate rights and ability to work.

Participants at the workshop agreed that it is the time to switch from “charity” to the rights-based approach towards people with disabilities, and relevant parties should have the rights to dialogue, negotiate and make informed decisions.

According to the 2009 National Census, people with a disability accounts for 7.8 per cent of Viet Nam’s population, but the figure goes up to 15.3 per cent if based on World Health Organization framework.

Age-based discrimination in labour market

Although there has been no comprehensive reports on age-based discrimination in labour and employment, MoLISA said a few employers prefer recruiting young workers and single out older employees (often above 35 of age) to be let go because “they think young workers are smarter, easier to adapt to new things and more productive”.

“Despite not being prominent, discrimination against older workers is happening in some places, particularly in FDI enterprises in labour-intensive manufacturing sectors,” said the Vice Director of MoLISA’s Legal Department.

However, he warned that the situation might get worse in the near future.

As the majority of private companies in Viet Nam were established in the past 30 years, female workers aged 45-55 and male workers aged 50-60 now only account for a small ratio of their workforce. But in a few years, the preference for young workers, together with automation, will adversely affect the older group.

Therefore, participants at the workshop agreed that age should be included as one of the discrimination grounds prohibited by the Labour Code.

Older workers can even help improve business competitiveness with their skills and experience if employers use them smartly, said Dinh Viet Thanh, head of Legal Department of May 10 Garment Company.

Gender equality

The revision of the Labour Code also tries to address gender-based discrimination to be better in line with ILO Convention 111 on Discrimination in Employment and Occupation and Convention 100 in Equal Remuneration, both of which Viet Nam has ratified, and the two non-ratified Conventions 156 (Workers with Family Responsibilities) and 183 (Maternity Protection).

The key proposals include applying flexible working hours for both women and men, bridging the 5-year gender gap in retirement age, removing the list of prohibited jobs for female workers, and introducing definitions and procedures to address sexual harassment in the workplace.

Together with freedom of association and collective bargaining, elimination of forced labour and abolition of child labour, the elimination of discrimination in employment and occupation is one of the four cornerstones of the 1998 ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. Both EU- Viet Nam FTA and CPTPP require all member states to adopt and maintain in its statues, regulations and practices these rights.

* This story is a product of the European Union-funded project on Promoting ILO fundamental conventions towards ratification of Conventions 87, 98, 105, and actions to eliminate discrimination and forced labour in Viet Nam. Its contents do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.