Vietnam Labour Update #88

Ngày đăng: 08/12/2020

Strike by Grab drivers in Hanoi: Today (December 7), hundreds of drivers for Grab, the most popular ride-hailing app in the country which currently has 75% of the market, went on strike in Hanoi, turning off their apps and gathering in front of the company's head office on Duy Tan street. A number of drivers also rode around Hanoi's streets, calling on other drivers to turn off their apps, before being dispersed by authorities. The news was reported in many places, including ICT News, Zing.vn, CafeBiz, Lao DongNguoi Lao Dong, and Soha (all Vietnamese). An English-language report is available in VN Express International. Workers were opposing a new policy in which they have to pay an extra tax on every trip (between 7.3% and 12.8%, depending on their contract), in addition to the 20% commission taken by Grab. This is Grab attempting to get drivers to shoulder the main burden of a new 10% tax on ride-hailing journeys, introduced to try and create a level playing field for traditional taxis. Workers said that before the new policy, they already had to work up to 16 hours a day in order to earn enough money, and that this new policy will make it impossible.

The strike was organised on Facebook over the weekend, and began this morning. One worker is quoted in the ICT News article as saying: "There is nobody to protect us so we must instead gather here to oppose [the new policy] and we have representatives to go and talk with the company management". As in many places around the world, drivers are classed as "partners" rather than workers, so do not have the protections of labour law. The strike caused traffic jams on Duy Tran street. Workers were demanding a change in policy, and to speak to the company management. According to CafeBiz, Grab claimed that they could not speak to workers as there were too many of them which made it dangerous due to COVID-19. They also claimed that the policy was not theirs, but the state's (not mentioning that it was Grab's decision to make workers pay), and said they had increased the cost of rides to minimise drivers' loss of income. ICT News, though, says, that a group representing drivers did enter the company offices for a meeting.

The app-based driving sector seems to have become a key site of class struggle in Vietnam over the past couple of years, with many strikes and actions by drivers for various apps. I have reported lots of them in this newsletter; see newsletter #73 for some of the most recent ones. This seems to be the first time that there have been consistent and recurring strikes outside of the manufacturing sector, which is where the vast majority of strikes still occur. It is unclear whether strikes by drivers are counted in strike statistics, however, as they are not classed as workers. Today's strike is also the first time I have read of drivers organising a group of representatives among themselves to go and speak to the company, which could represent an advancement in the ways drivers are organising these struggles.

121 strikes in first 10 months of the year: Nguoi Lao Dong (Vietnamese) reports this figure, in its report of the 17th conference of 12th term of the VGCL presidium, which took place in Hanoi on December 4 and 5. 121 strikes is the same number of strikes as the whole of 2019. The main causes, according to the VGCL, are workers not agreeing with enterprises' wage policies, especially around Tet (see last week's newsletter for a discussion of this with regard to the upcoming Tet bonus), and not agreeing with company policies regarding COVID-19. As reported in newsletter #65, the VGCL recorded 91 strikes in the first 5 months of the year, which they largely attributed to the economic impacts of COVID-19. This would mean that there were another 30 strikes from June to October. A separate article in Nguoi Lao Dong (Vietnamese) says that strike numbers in Ho Chi Minh City have actually reduced, "from the beginning of the year up to now" (the article was published on December 6). The article says that there have been 11 reported strikes—although it does not specify which body's figures it is reporting—a decline of 4 compared to the same period in 2019.

The conference of the VGCL presidium was not just focusing on strikes, but on the VGCL's activities over the year. There were some other interesting figures reported. Tran Thanh Hai, one of the VGCL's vice presidents, said that in the first 9 months of the year 896,787 people applied for unemployment benefits, a rise of 33.5% compared to the same period in 2019. Of those, 839,260 did receive benefits, 31% more than the same period in 2019; somewhat confusingly, however, the article then says that this is only 0.4% higher than the whole of 2019. 

Hai also said that workers' limited awareness of finance has been exploited, and that there are signs that "black credit" (usury) has reappeared in many industrial zones and workers' living areas; see newsletter #82 for a discussion of the rise of illegal loan sharks due to the impacts of COVID-19. The VGCL will also develop a plan of activities for Worker Month 2021, around the slogan "Solidarity - Creativity - Development". In 2021, the VGCL's activities will focus on inspecting and overseeing the implementation of labour law, increasing the number of collective bargaining agreements, and attempting to improve collective bargaining agreements so that they have more benefits for workers.

Hue Tan fined 400 million dong for labour export violations: This is the largest fine ever given to a labour export company. The news was reported in a number of places, including Lao Dong, Phap Luat Online, and VnEconomy (all Vietnamese). People paid the company significant sums of money to go and work in Poland, which the company then failed to repay when they were unable to send workers abroad. They then tried to evade and conceal their violations. In addition to the fine, the company has been ordered to repay workers' money, and has also been suspended from labour export activities for 12 months.

HJC Vina docks workers' end of year bonuses for not arriving to work 10 minutes early: Lao Dong (Vietnamese) reports that this factory (which produces helmets and is located in Khai Quang industrial zone, Vinh Yen city, Vinh Phuc province, in northern Vietnam) has introduced a policy that workers will be docked 50,000 dong from their end of year bonus each time they fail to swipe in for their shift, using cards and fingerprint recognition, at least 10 minutes early. The policy started on November 1. One worker at the company tells the paper that the factory has nearly 1,000 workers but only 5 clocking in machines, causing a lot of difficulties for workers. This is especially the case when it has been raining, so the machines take longer to recognise workers' fingerprints.

Delayed report into fatal Plei Kan hydropower plant accident: In May this year, 3 workers died and 3 more were injured in an accident at this plant (located in Ngoc Hoi district, Kon Tum province, in the central highlands). Tan Phat Joint Stock Company is the main investor. Nguoi Dua Tin (Vietnamese), however, reports that the Kon Tum provincial DOLISA has still not released the result of their investigation into the incident as the Ngoc Hoi district police have failed to provide the required documents. Earlier in November, the Kon Tum provincial People's Committee ordered authorities to speed up their investigation and report the results to the People's Committee before the end of the month. As of December 3, however, the police had still not provided the documents. There has also not yet been any decision on compensation for the families of the victims, or a report on how handle the plant's labour violations. According to a previous safety inspection by DOLISA, there were 33 workers who had contracts of 12 to 36 months, and 6 without contracts (the 6 victims of the accident, including a 16 year old).

Plei Kan has also previously illegally taken water, and caused flooding and damage to the crops of local residents. Residents have sent complaint letters to authorities. Despite many violations since the plant was set up in April 2018, Tan Phat has only been fined 25 million dong.

Final New Industrial Relations Framework (NIRF) project bulletin: The final bulletin of this ILO project (available in English and Vietnamese) looks at the lessons and achievements of the project, which aimed to reinforce the representative function of trade unions and employers' organizations.

Vietnam had Asia Pacific's highest average annual increase in real minimum wages in 2010-2019: The average annual increase was 11.3%, followed by Laos with 10.1%. However, due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, in the first and second quarters of 2020, real average wages in Vietnam declined by 10.5%, while unemployment increased by 0.5%. These figures are from the ILO's Global Wage Report 2020-21 (English).

Family of imprisoned labour and environmental activist Hoang Duc Binh denied a visit with him: According to the latest newsletter of the 88 Project (English), this occurred on November 23, and was due to Binh's refusal to wear a prison uniform, as he insists he is not a criminal. The same thing happened last month. Binh is currently serving a 14 year sentence.


Source : Joe Buckley

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