In a big victory in the fight against abuse and gender-based violence on the factory floor, Vietnam has introduced for the first time a clear definition of sexual harassment in its Labour Code, which was implemented earlier this year. The International Labour Organization, Better Work and other international agencies have pushed for the introduction of a more precise definition of sexual harassment within Vietnam’s Labour Code over the years, as its previous vague legal definition complicated its identification and eradication.
In a survey conducted by the country’s ILO office in 2015, up to 17 per cent of the 150 mid-career workers interviewed said either they or someone they knew in their workplace had been asked for “sexual favours by a superior in return for some kind of workplace benefit.” But in the female-dominated sector of some 3.5 million workers, with few women in management positions, complaints about sexual harassment still remain rare. A study on sexual harassment in the workplace conducted by the country’s Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA) and the ILO found that fear of reprisals prevent victims from speaking out, let alone reporting cases officially.
The new guidelines are now set to challenge the status quo.
The Labour Code, which has been updated for the first time since 2012, now gives employers a chance to better understand the issue and put more practical policies in place. Guidelines are more specific, including any form of sexual harassment spanning physical, verbal or non-verbal harassment such as body language, or a display of sexual activity directly or electronically. The workplace has also been defined to include anywhere where the employee actually works including work-related locations such as social activities, workshops, business trips, phone conversations, vehicles, and so on.
Better Work Vietnam, alongside national partners and the ILO, have produced workplace guidelines on sexual harassment for employers in the past. The new amendments in the Labour Code will harmonize with these efforts, turning these guidelines into practical policies and real action, whilst also empowering workers to know their rights and raise their voices if they experience harassment.