Trade union leader secures benefits for workers

At enterprises in Vietnam, it is still common to see a senior manager or human resources manager doubling as that company's trade union chairman.

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Pham Thi Hang, chairwoman of Hai Phong Economic Zone’s trade union, talks to labourers about the roles of trade unions and the benefits of joining them.

Although trade unions are supposed to represent and protect the rights and interests of labourers, the union leaders are usually employed by businesses, which in principle, would undermine their works.

An international expert on employee-employer relations has said making unions independent from the interference of management is key to building harmonious, stable and progressive industrial relations.

Pham Thi Hang, chairwoman of Hai Phong Economic Zone’s trade union, is well known for her initiatives to help improve benefits for labourers and make trade unions free from management interference.

She has advocated establishing trade unions with workers as the core members so they no longer depend on employers to make decisions related to labour rights and for these efforts, she became one of the 10 outstanding trade union officials honoured in the Nguyen Van Linh awards held for the first time in July by the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour.

Hang and trade union officials of the economic zone have approached each and every factory to listen to labourers’ difficulties and recommendations and encourage them to apply for trade unions.

Among 220 companies located in the economic zone, 188 have established grassroots trade unions. So far, about 100,000 out of 130,000 workers in the economic zone have become union members, a testament to the non-stop efforts of chairwoman Hang and her colleagues, who realised that Vietnam's international agreements allow for workers to freely choose which organisations they would like to join.

Hang has also pioneered collective bargaining with Foreign Direct Investment enterprises to provide better benefits for labourers.

Since 2016, Hang has directly negotiated a collective bargaining agreement with a group of enterprises from the Republic of Korea. By June this year, 19 businesses had signed the agreement.

The agreement offers better benefits for workers at firms in the Hai Phong Economic Zone. It sets the meal allowance at a minimum of 21,000 VND (0.9 USD) per worker per day. The Tet (Lunar New Year) bonus is equal to at least one month's wage. The monthly travel allowance is 400,000 VND per worker. Female workers in their menstrual period are paid overtime for their hours according to the Labour Code. Each month, labourers must have at least one week working for 40 hours.

The negotiation process was not easy. To persuade business representatives, Hang and the leaders of the trade unions had to analyse the advantages and disadvantages of increasing wages and meal allowances to make sure employers understood the benefits of the changes.

ILO Vietnam country director Chang-Hee Lee has praised Hang’s creative and unique approach, calling the agreement at Hai Phong Economic Zone a new milestone in developing labour relations among businesses and their employees.

Hang was honoured last month by the VGCL as one of the ten most outstanding individuals who contributed to trade union activities.

VNS/VNA