04/06/2007, 00.00
VIETNAM
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Workers forced to go on wildcat strikes for small pay hikes

Workers at foreign-owned companies earn very low wages, are forced to accept poor working conditions and an inadequate social safety net. For the past several months, many have been on strike for minimal demands such as pay raises of a few cents and food that is not unsanitary. Others travel thousands of kilometres abroad for better salaries.

Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews/Agencies) – For the past three months southern Vietnam’s industrial sector has been hit by wildcat strikes mostly over wages, working hours, rest periods, and social insurance, the labour ministry said.

Overall 43 strikes have been reported, 16 at Japanese and South Korean companies, said Le Xuan Thanh, an official in the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs. Many workers simply did not go back to work after the Lunar New Year festivities in mid-February.

Early last year a similar wave of strikes had affected mostly foreign-owned companies, with tens of thousands of workers downing tools over companies’ demand to increase the work week from 40 hours up to 70 hours whilst keeping wages as low as VND 1.3/4 million (US$ 81-87) per month, thus virtually imposing unpaid extra hours. In addition employees were tired of the unsanitary food and water served. In the end, the government had to intervene to get workers a 25 per cent wage hike.

Workers All Super, a Taiwanese-owned textile company, complained not only about low wages but also about being forced to work up to 1,000 hours overtime a year which is five times higher than allowed by Vietnam’s Labour Law. Eventually, the company agreed to reduce overtime, not to work Sundays, and raise wages by VND 25,000 (US$ 1.56).

The 740 workers of Hong Kong-owned Peaktop, a candle making company in Bien Hoa, complained of getting only 74 cents pay hike instead of the US$ 1.56 promised.

Epic Designer II, a garment company also based in Hong Kong, refused to raise wages claiming that its wages start at VND 845,000 (US$ 52.8), which is already higher than the minimum wage of VND 710,000 (US$ 44.3) set by the government.

In many companies workers are demanding a pay raise of 5 per cent only to be threatened by management that they would be fired if they continued. In Vietnam strikes are illegal unless they are proclaimed by official trade unions.

In economically booming Vietnam the government is eager to attract foreign investment. But workers tend to work for very low wages, in poor working conditions and without any safety net.

Meanwhile, Nguyen Ngoc Quynh, deputy chief of the central Department for Foreign Labour Management, announced that 27,000 Vietnamese workers will go to work in Qatar where temperatures can reach 48 Cº at noon, but where base salaries are US$ 250 a month.

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