Vietnam Labour Update #89

Ngày đăng: 15/12/2020

Update on Grab strike: This strike, reported in last week's newsletter, got a lot of attention in the media. As reported in Nguoi Lao Dong (Vietnamese), Grab drivers in Ho Chi Minh City also went on strike the same day, riding around the streets and then gathering outside the company's new office, with the same demands as their colleagues in Hanoi. The result of the strike was inconclusive. After negotiations between Grab and worker representatives (who workers had chosen themselves), and then Grab and the General Department of Taxation, no agreement was reached. As reported in a number of places, including Lao Dong, Nguoi Lao Dong, Thanh Nien (all Vietnamese), and VN Express International (English), the tax department told Grab that the new tax policy—that 10% VAT should be paid on the whole of the company's revenue—was supposed to be for the company, not individual drivers. Grab has claimed that that is not in line with their legal obligations, while the tax department has asked Grab for further documentation.

Some commentary in independent publications, such as in Viet Nam Thoi Bao (Vietnamese, belonging to the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam), said the strike showed that conditions are ripe for independent trade unions and associations, and for establishing the legal right to protest. Tran Thanh Hai, a vice president of the VGCL, said that the VGCL would undertake in-depth research into app-based drivers and then petition state authorities for measures which both ensure workers' rights and interests, and are in line with the state's legal policies.

In an attempt to track the patterns and extent of strikes by app-based drivers in Vietnam, I have created a map of them, going back to 2017. The map provides the location, date, and a brief description of each strike. I found 12 strikes since 2017 (although this will rise to 13 once I add the strike by Be drivers, below). I hope to keep this map updated, and also hope that drivers and others will provide information on other strikes and more details about previous strikes. The map is currently only in English, but I plan to translate it into Vietnamese soon.

Strike by Be drivers: Following the strike by Grab drivers, on December 11, hundreds of drivers for Be, another ride-hailing app, went on strike in Hanoi. They switched off their apps, gathered in front of the company's office, and rode around the streets of the capital, honking their horns. The news was reported in many places, including afamily, Cong Luan, Lao Dong, and Phap Luat Online (all Vietnamese). Drivers were protesting against a new weekly bonus policy; reaching the highest level, 270 points, meant that drivers previously received a 980 thousand dong bonus, but this had suddenly reduced to 630 thousand dong. Be had not informed drivers in advance of the change. They were also unhappy about the percentage of each ride taken by the company; 33%, which is higher than other companies, even Grab.

Be initially claimed that drivers had misunderstood, and that the reason why the weekly bonus levels had reduced is because they had also introduced two other bonus programmes ("dear Be drivers", and "welcome Tet together - drive Be to receive a bonus"), meaning that drivers' incomes would be higher overall. The following day, however, Cong Luan reported that Be had changed the weekly bonus system back to as it was previously.

Hanoi waste collectors strike (again): In November, waste collectors for Minh Quan High Technology Development and Investment went on strike over late wage payments (see newsletter #86). As reported in Nhan Dan (Vietnamese) this week, rubbish has once again piled up in areas of Hanoi—Tay Ho and Nam Tu Liem—for which Minh Quan is responsible. The article reports that this is because workers are once again on strike over late wage payments. Minh Quan's contract for waste collection ends at the end of the year.

124 strikes until the end of November 2020: Lao Dong (Vietnamese) provides this figure in an article about what Tet bonuses will be like next year. 124 strikes from January-November is 5 more than in the same period in 2019 (the VGCL reported 121 strikes across the whole of 2019; see newsletter #42), and three more than the strike numbers previously reported until the end of October (see last week's newsletter).

The rest of the article focuses on the comments of Le Dinh Quang, deputy head of the VGCL's labour relations department, regarding bonuses for the upcoming Tet holiday. He says the situation will be more difficult than previous years. Lots of enterprises, despite being affected by the economic impacts of COVID-19, are trying to provide bonuses to workers. The VGCL is trying to find sources of funding for workers at enterprises which cannot pay bonuses, and for people who are unemployed or without income, to ensure that everyone can have a Tet celebration.

Scaffolding collapse kills three workers: The accident occurred on the afternoon of December 8, in Vu Thu district, Thai Binh province (in northern Vietnam's Red River Delta). Tuoi Tre (Vietnamese) reports that the workers were building a private house.

Quang Ninh provincial social security office establishes inter-agency group to demand unpaid social security contributions from enterprises: The group includes officials from the Quang Ninh provincial level social security office, DOLISA, and the police (Quang Ninh is a province in northeast Vietnam). As reported in Lao Dong (Vietnamese), the social security office says that many enterprises across the province are taking advantage of social security exemptions—which are only supposed to be for enterprises facing difficulties due to the impacts of COVID-19 (see newsletter #71)—to avoid paying their contributions, causing hardships for workers. Consequently, debts owed to the provincial social security fund have risen to 256 billion dong, 62 billion higher than the same period last year. The inter-agency group inspects and works with enterprises which have not paid social security to try and make them pay. 

In related news, Nguoi Lao Dong (Vietnamese) reports that Vietnam's central social security office has warned of a new scam, in which citizens are receiving phone calls claiming to be from social security. The callers say that there is an issue with the person's health insurance card and that they need to urgently transfer money or they will lose the card. The social security office has warned people to be vigilant about this and not to transfer any money to people over the phone who claim to be from the social security office.

Escaping the "tentacles of usury" thanks to CEP microfinance: Lao Dong (Vietnamese) published an article with this title. I have previously covered the rise of illegal loan sharks (see newsletter #82 and #88). The Lao Dong article says that some people who had previously borrowed from loan sharks at enormous interest rates, and were subsequently threatened if they did not continue to pay off the debt (which never decreased due to accumulating interest), were able to borrow from CEP microfinance (which is part of the Ho Chi Minh City labour federation) at very low interest rates. Consequently, they could use the low-interest loan from CEP to pay off the loan sharks, and escape a debt trap.

Update on 116 Civil Engineering Construction company case: An update on this case, discussed in newsletters #59, #60, and #84. Lao Dong (Vietnamese) reports that workers are still yet to be paid the money they are owed in full, and are unsure whether this will arrive before the end of the year.

ILO videos on NIRF-Japan project: The ILO has published two videos, one on the lessons learnt and one on the journey (both in Vietnamese with English subtitles), related to the end of this project, mentioned in last week's newsletter.

Source: Joe Buckley

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