01/30/2006, 00.00
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Vietnam, workers strike over wage levels frozen since 1999

"Low pay" the lowest in the region.  The need to favour foreign investment prevailed over the needs of the workers.  900 strikes over a 10 year period.

Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Vietnamese premier Phan Van Khai has once again intervened in the search for a solution to ongoing strikes which are crippling the output of many foreign companies, as workers ask for a pay rise in accordance with state law.

Tens of thousands of workers in the southern industrial parks (IPs) and export processing zones (EPZs) have been on strike through January, demanding that the government adjust basic wages to meet inflationary trends and the rising cost of living.  The premier has advised the Ministry of Planning and Investment (MPI) to propose solutions to the strikes in provinces and cities hosting foreign direct investment (FDI) companies.

The intervention is a sign of government recognition that workers at the FDI companies are unhappy with a decision to postpone to April a 40% increase in basic wages, originally proposed to become effective from the beginning of February.

Official statistics show that Vietnam had until December attracted close to US billion in FDI, much of it from Taiwanese and Korean companies looking for labour that is cheaper than in competitive China, where basic wages are currently a month.
For Vietnam's FDI companies, basic wages were initially set at about -, but the government in 1999 "adjusted" it to please investors to between and (depending on the location).  It has remained so despite the rising cost of living.

Communist Vietnam's labour codes allow workers to go on strike to defend their rights. However, strikes must meet legal criteria. Thus the current spate of strikes is illegal as they were organized spontaneously, without a trade union – explains Pham Van Hung, head of labour management for HEPZA, in Ho Chi Minh City' – it was feared that these could present serious opposition.

The proposed increase does not satisfy the striking workers, it has also sparked protests amongst workers in Vietnamese companies, who considered themselves discriminated against and are threatening to come out on strike for a fair wage.   "I earn 38 dollars a month – protests Nguyen Thi Phuong, who works in a clothing factory – and I haven't had a raise in over 10 years". In many companies workers with years of experience receive the same wage as those who are staring out.

If the government fails to intervene immediately on the question, experts warn that the strikes will spread :  in Ho Chi Minh City there are over 700 foreign companies which employ over 130 thousand workers. A labour Ministry report shows that there have been over 900 strikes in less then 10 years, above all asking for fair wages and improved social security.

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