As Vietnam revises labour law, FES and partners debate the opportunity to improve workers’ rights

The ongoing revision of Vietnam’s Labour Code is an opportunity to ensure workers’ rights are better protected in the economy of the 21st Century.

Vietnam is currently revising its Labour Code, in a process scheduled for completion in 2019. This is an important opportunity to ensure sustainable development by protecting workers’ rights, and ensuring their access to efficient remedies for violations as well as to dispute-settlement mechanisms.

This was the theme of a week of events organized by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) in Vietnam and its partners from 30 September to 5 October to take stock and formulate recommendations for policy-makers.

The week started with the 8th edition of the Vietnamese-German Law Days in Hanoi, a yearly forum for international exchange about the rule of law and other legal issues jointly organized with Hanoi Law University (HLU). The last two days of the week were dedicated to legal practitioners at the Annual Meeting of Legal Advisors, Labour Judges and Employers on Labour Dispute Settlement, organized in cooperation with the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour (VGCL).

"The Vietnamese-German Law Days are a yearly forum for international exchange about the rule of law and other legal issues organized by FES and Hanoi Law University."

These events brought together the many different perspectives necessary for participatory reform. Those included Vietnamese academics, labour judges, state representatives, non-governmental organizations, trade unions and employer organizations, as well as experts from Singapore, Korea and Germany, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The revision of the Labour Code in Vietnam

The Labour Code was last amended in 2012 and was initially scheduled to be next revised in 2022. But the Vietnamese legislator started a new comprehensive revision process in 2017 to cope with the fast changes in the economic environment and the new generation of Free Trade Agreements after the demise of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.

The revised Labour Code is set to be adopted in 2019, followed by the ratification of important ILO conventions on the freedom of association and collective bargaining.

Issue I: Between deregulation and rights protection

Deregulation was one of the most divisive issues at the conference. Hoping for economic growth, some promote a strong liberalization of regulations regarding overtime work, minimum wages and retirement.

But others point out that the risks are numerous: Without legal limits many workers will be under pressure to work more, since the freedom of their choice to do so is severely limited by low wages and minimal individual power.

Moreover, deregulation might not be sustainable in the long run: In Korea, for example, weak workers’ protection has impacted the economy negatively, leading the government to change its policy in recent years.

Issue II: Strong trade unions and international guidelines

Strong trade unions and representative organizations are essential to safeguard workers’ rights and were therefore another focal point of discussion. 

Speakers stressed that the new Labour Code draft needs to specify rules for working with multiple representative organizations and better procedures for legal strikes, as well as ways to deal with existing informal organizations that—up until now—are working parallel with the trade unions. This process could be supported by international conventions on freedom of association and collective bargaining from the ILO as well as guidelines such as the United Nations Guiding Principles (UNGP) and Labour Rights chapters in trade agreements.

However, the Labour Code revisions should not exclusively focus on the formal aspect of trade agreements, said Soyeon Jeong of the Boda Law Office, a South Korean partner of FES. More important is “how to actually implement these standards to better protect the workers,” she said.

Issue III: Domestic development in the age of digitalization

Consumers in Vietnam and elsewhere are familiar with the advantages of the digital economy, where three clicks on a smartphone can get you a ride from A to B. But few know that labour laws offer no protection for the drivers of service providers such as Uber and Grab, who are formally self-employed.  

Therefore, the next draft of the Labour Code “should also protect the dependent self-employed workers, who will become more and more important with increasing digitalization,” argued Professor Wolfgang Däubler of Bremen University.

In order to do so it will be necessary to find new ways to protect the workers in the changing digital environment, specify legal definitions such as “employee”, and reduce overlaps with other laws.

Issue IV: When rights are violated and interests collide – labour dispute settlements

During the last two days of the week the Annual Meeting of Legal Advisors, Labour Judges and Employers focused on labour dispute settlements through collective action, trade unions, arbitration, court processes and strikes.

Problems that were discussed included slow court processes, unclear regulations and weak arbitration councils.

The participants suggested strengthening local counselling and local unions, as well as finding ways to deal with unorganized worker groups. Moreover, the revision of the Labour Code can help clarify the procedures for the courts, shorten the processes and professionalize the arbitration system.  

Where do we go from here?

The results of the 8th Vietnamese-German Law Days will be published as a yearbook by HLU in cooperation with FES and will be made available to  the general public and policy-makers to support them in revising the labour law in the coming year.


For more information on the work by FES Vietnam on the topic contact the country office staff and follow their official facebook fan page for more updates on the #LabourLawRevision, #VietnameseGermanLawDays and #RuleOfLawDialogue.

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