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Vietnam’s ratification of fundamental convention on collective bargaining ‘a strong signal’ for garment sector

2 Jul 2019

The unanimous decision by Vietnam’s National Assembly to ratify Convention 98, to eliminate discrimination and interference against workers representatives and unions, has been welcomed by Better Work. 

The recent decision by delegates of Vietnam’s National Assembly to ratify an ILO core convention will have important consequences for the nearly $US 30 billion garment industry, says the head of the Better Work programme in Vietnam.

“With the Assembly’s vote, the government has sent a strong signal regarding the direction of industrial relations in Vietnam. True worker and management engagement will play an ever increasing role in the economy,” said Paula Albertson, Better Work’s programme manager in Vietnam. “All those involved with the industry need to prepare for these changes.”

The convention, the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention, first adopted by the International Labour Organization in 1949, requires the Vietnamese government to implement legal and institutional steps to promote collective bargaining and provide ‘adequate protection’ against discrimination by employers of worker or union officials, and protect against interference of unions by the State, employers or other unions.

As such, the convention echoes Better Work’s factory level approach to strengthening social dialogue. “Open and representative elections for worker-management committees has been a key tenet of Better Work’s strategy from day one,” adds Albertson. Notably, the Better Work approach to developing factory level worker-management committees was taken up as a model for revisions of Vietnam’s labour law in 2013.

Speaking shortly after the June 14 announcement, ILO Vietnam Director, Chang-Hee Lee said, “The ratification of Convention 98 will accelerate the spread of genuine collective bargaining for win-win solutions at Vietnamese workplaces, which is likely to result in better working conditions, higher productivity and shared prosperity, contributing to sustainable development.”

Concretely, the ratification of the Convention is likely to strengthen the legitimacy and bargaining position of grassroots trade unions by reducing the control or influence management representatives have traditionally exerted. “The ratification and ultimate implementation of this Convention will help boost progress on issues that factories have long faced, such as how to implement sound industrial relations,” says Lien Pham, Operations Manager of Better Work Vietnam.

For many businesses and unions, it will mean a significant change in the way they currently operate. “A lot of this is new for Vietnam,” says Pham, “There will need to be a process of awareness-raising at the local level on the implications of this shift in national policy, and guidance for factories in implementing the necessary changes. Better Work, as an ILO programme and in partnership with our national constituents, will have a key role in providing support to the factory management and unions so that they can benefit from these historic developments,” she added.

Convention 98 is the sixth fundamental convention Viet Nam has ratified. They also include Convention 29 on forced labour, Conventions 100 and 111 on non-discrimination, and Conventions 138 and 182 on child labour.

Better Work – a collaboration between the United Nations’ ILO and the International Finance Corporation, a member of the World Bank Group – brings together all levels of the garment industry to improve working conditions and boost the competitiveness of apparel businesses. Currently active in eight countries reaching more than two million workers, the programme creates lasting change through assessments, training, advocacy and research. 

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